Does sustainability matter to cruise passengers? The answer is yes, no, and maybe

MYLES STEDMAN's recent survey of cruise executives' opinions on their passengers' convictions on sustainability found responses covered all bases.

EVERYONE in the cruise industry can agree sustainability is important – in our sector moreso than most others.

However what exactly “important” means is highly divergent, depending on who you talk to.

What is certainly uncommon is Hurtigruten Chief Executive Officer Hedda Felin’s position.

She is not only supportive of the cruise restrictions set to be introduced in Norway from 2026, she would like to see them go further.

“We want stricter regulations, so we welcome this initiative, but we know that by 2036…technology is not ready for net zero,” she told travelBulletin.

This admission of the current limitations of technology is also an acknowledgement Hurtigruten is at risk of being barred from Norway’s World Heritage Listed fjords once restrictions begin to be introduced.

However Felin believe the line will be fine once the stricter regulations are instituted, saying it will be “prepared” for sterner regulations.

This is in part thanks to its Sea Zero project, and the hybrid retrofitting of its fleet.

“We will be fine…I think we have to be prepared for stricter regulations, and more scrutiny of our business,” she said.

“In the energy sector you have to be at the forefront, you can’t [just] take the regulations…the fleet is good for the next 10-20 years, and after that, [we will] have to discuss with the government…but we will be in dialogue with them.”

The rest of the cruise industry, though – Felin said they are “so far behind”, particularly as passengers begin to take notice of whether or not lines are doing their bit.

“The guests are more aware, more conscious, they also want to travel and have a good feeling about it, knowing they’re leaving something positive to the coming generation…they know exactly what they want.”

Hurtigruten’s Joel Victoria, Hedda Felin, and Damian Perry.

However this view is not shared by all – particularly not  Holland America Line Chief Executive Officer Gus Antorcha.

I asked Antorcha on his recent trip to Sydney whether or not passenger booking trends had begun to reward the cruise lines doing more earnest sustainability work, and I was surprised to hear him answer “no”.

“We haven’t seen that to be perfectly honest,” he told tB.

“I think guests want to go where they want to go, and they want to do it in a place and in a way that they feel safe and taken care of.

“I don’t think they’ll risk, ‘maybe one’s more environmentally conscious than the other, but it doesn’t go where I want to go’…we’re just not seeing it.”

Antorcha said a cruise line is more likely to stand out for a poor sustainability track record than a good one.

“I think that could hurt demand…I think that is certainly a risk,” he reasoned.

I posed a similar question to Silversea Marketing Director Philippa Walker, and rather than “yes” or “no”, her answer was more, “it depends”.

“The majority of guests would be quite considered about the type of ship they’re going to sail into destinations like Antarctica, the Galapagos, where there are some sustainability concerns, be it on shore or on the ship,” she told tB.

“I think they’re the sort of passengers that would be looking at what we’re doing…because we’re making changes now on board the ships, I think our guests are starting to evolve in that way as well.”

The range of opinions expressed throughout the industry emphasises just how different cruisers are from one another – and how different the lines are who serve them.

It also shows how nuanced the cruise industry’s understanding of sustainability has become, as the sector faces external pressure like few others to reduce its carbon footprint.

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