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Assessing the carbon cost of cruising

Cruise holidays give four times the emissions of hotel stays

A presentation on the topic “What is the environmental impact of a cruise holiday?” has been posted on Slideshare having been originally delivered at the event “Contemporary Perspectives in Tourism and Hospitality Research: Policy, Practice and Performance”, which took place between 12-14 July 2015, University of Brighton, UK. 

The authors used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – a technique more commonly found in manufacturing and engineering – to examine the carbon footprint of a cruise holiday, and compare this to a conventional hotel stay. According to the authors, “cruising is the 21st century equivalent of wearing fur: luxurious, but morally questionable!” 

The presentation gives the figure for cruise passengers carried in 2012 as 20.9 million: more recent figures from the Cruise Lines International Association estimated that passenger numbers in 2014 were 22.1 million, projected to increase to 23 million in 2015. The CLIA global fleet is 270 ocean-going cruise ships and 151 river cruise ships. The industry value, according to Richard Farr and Christine Hall (authors of the Slideshare presentation) was $36 billion in 2013, with just 1% tax paid on profits. 

Farr and Hall conducted a lifecycle analysis of cruise holidays including the greenhouse gases associated with the construction of a ship, its operations and end-of-life. According to the authors, cruise ships typically use Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) as their fuel, which produces 3766.5 kg CO2e emitted per tonne for HFO consumption.Farr and Hall estimate fuel consumption of an average cruise ship as 127 tonnes per day, although this will of course vary with ship and itinerary. Building a cruise ship requires up to 100,000 tonnes of material (mostly steel), and other costs associated with a cruise holiday are the provision of food and drink, excursions, and travel to and from the point of embarkation. 

The authors estimate the life-cycle carbon cost of a fictional cruise holiday, featuring a return flight from London to Barcelona and a week-long cruise of the Mediterranean. The cost is compared with a week-long hotel holiday in Barcelona, staying in a hotel for which environmental performance data were available. With fuel usage making up most of the emissions calculated per passenger for a cruise, it is estimated that a cruise holiday is responsible for around 4 times as many CO2 emissions as an equivalent hotel-based holiday. 

Eijgelaar et al. (2010) discussed the carbon cost of Antarctic cruise tourism, and reported that high levels of greenhouse gas emissions are created by cruise ship tourists in general, and especially high levels for those visiting the Antarctic, up to approximately eight times higher per capita and per day than average international tourism trips. Howitt et al. (2010) had calculated emissions for cruise ship journeys to and from New Zealand, and reports that the weighted mean energy use per passenger night for the "hotel" function of these cruise vessels was estimated as 1600 MJ per visitor night, 12 times larger than the value for a land-based hotel. Farreny et al. (2011) found that for Antarctic tourism, 70% of carbon emissions were attributable to cruising and 30% for flying. 

View the Slideshare presentation “Environmental impact of cruise holidays”, and read the authors accompanying blog.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 20 July 2015
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism
  • Travel and Technology