Published On: Tue, Feb 4th, 2020

What will we learn from the cruise townhall meeting?

cruise ship in port st. maarten

PHILIPSBURG – Port St. Maarten hosted a town hall meeting on Tuesday at its home-porting terminal in Pointe Blanche with experts from the cruise industry. The meeting aimed to share knowledge and stimulate greater awareness about the industry.

“Cruise tourism is an essential pillar to the national economy. At the heart of the economy are small, medium-sized and large businesses. The town hall meeting is an opportunity for existing mature businesses to be appraised of the latest and new trends and developments related to the interests of cruise passengers when they visit a destination,” the Port stated in a press release.

The meeting targeted aspiring entrepreneurs ready to develop niche markets, services and products for what the port labels as “an ever changing cruise demographic.”

“For an entrepreneur in the making, this could help bring that vision to fruition and fill a need in the cruise tourism sector on the island which keeps us at the forefront as a destination,” the press release stated.

Panel Townhall Meeting Cruise Port St. Maarten - 20200502 JH

While the cruise industry currently captures only 2 percent of the global travel market, according to an annual report of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the numbers are nevertheless impressive. In 2018, the Caribbean’s share in cruising was 34.4 percent, an increase of 6.4 percent over 2017. In 2019, the FCCA projected the number of cruise passengers to exceed 30 million on FCCA and CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) member cruise lines.

In 2019 the industry added ten new vessels to its fleet with more than 37,000 lower berths against an investment of $7.6 billion. In 2017 the global cruise industry was good for 1.1 million jobs that generated $45.6 billion in wages.

For the time being there seems to be no end to the growth expectations. Between 2019 and 2027 there are 72 new vessels on order, an investment of $57.6 billion that will add another 240,000 lower berths to the fleet’s capacity. Of these new vessels, 23 will be powered by LNG, thus lowering their carbon foot print.

The average spending per cruise passenger in the Caribbean is $101.52; St. Maarten beats that number with $143.20 putting in 2nd place in a list of 36 islands. According to the FCCA, a single cruise ship with 4,000 passengers and 1,640 crew members will generate $378,500 in spending. The association’s 2019 report contains an ad from Port St. Maarten, marking its 55 years in the cruise business; over those years, the ad claims, the port received 35 million passengers.

The FCCA report also boasts about environmental initiatives – from the installation of exhaust scrubbers and the introduction of LNG-powered vessels to the elimination of single-use plastics and the restoration of coral reefs.

Cruise industry: boon or environmental disaster?

Those initiatives are obviously worth something, but they do not tell the whole story. ABC Tourism, an “Abiotic, biotic and cultural tourism organization” states on its web site: “We do not encourage cruise ship tourism due to the overall environmental impact of the industry.”

ABC notes that the average cruise ship generates 21,000 tons of sewage and emits the equivalent of 13 million cars worth of sulphur oxide per day. The environmental organization Friends of the Earth estimates that cruise lines discharged more than one billion gallons of sewage into the ocean in 2017. Cruise ships are allowed to do this once they are at least three nautical miles (a bit more than 5.5 kilometers) from the shore, but there are reports about violations.

In 2013, the Caribbean Princess dumped 4,227 gallons of contaminated water into the sea of the coast of Great Britain, using a secret outlet pipe to get rid of the waste. Four other ships of Princess Cruise Lines were similarly equipped and the practice began back in 2005. The company got a fine of $40 million – a slap on the wrist compared to the investments the industry makes year after year.

ABC also sees some positive developments: 60 percent of cruise ships now have improved sewaged treatment systems on board. In an evaluation of cruise lines on their environmental performance, ABC puts Disney Cruise lines at the top of the list for having advanced sewage treatment and fuel emission systems. Other cruise lines that do well in this regard are Norwegian, Cunard, Princess and Holland America.