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Cruise-line companies are building private Caribbean play zones (economist.com)
61 points by respinal 51 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

I once worked for a Cruise Company for some months. I really am shocked at how naive I was back then, when I applied and worked there.

Back then I had no idea how bad this form of travel is for the environment, for the visited cities, for the people working below deck, and so on.

The people I worked with in the main office of the company were really energetic, loved their product, had a great time launching ship after ship (every year a new ship was launched). It was great working with people who loved what they were doing. Compared to other jobs I had till then. I was there when the new hyped prototype was being put into service. Quite an interesting time. We were allowed to test travel on the new ship. It was a cool experience.

From a purely hedonistic perspective. Yeah it felt nice sitting in the sauna, ten decks above see at 6am in the morning and looking out over the waves. It was purely relaxing.

But from a more conscious perspective it was doing everything I could to help destroy this world - and I was so abusing the lower deck people. The ones never being seen by guests. They work horrible shifts, are employed with contracts from the tax heaven states the ships are being registered in.

I was an employee of the same company - but I had massive employment protections and laws governing how long I work, what is considered overtime, and so on. The served me, made my bed, put coffee on my table. They prepared my food - but they were third or fourth class "citizens" on this ship.

I am ashamed looking at it nowadays.

First word, third world clash in the service industry is real but you should not react with emotion only.

What you need to consider is the opportunity cost for those workers. Opportunity cost = (return of best alternative not taken) - (return of a chosen option). If the work at cruise company is the best opportunity for the low paid Filipino worker, you should just be generally horrified how hard the life in third world is. 14-16 hours of hard work per day in a ship may be better than even harder lower paying work in some factory.

This is separate issue from pure exploitation and abuse where even the low wages are not paid on time, agreements are not kept and more work is assigned without extra compensation.

"pure exploitation and abuse" happens to foreign cruise ship workers all the time and is exceptionally well documented.

Please provide a link to the aforementioned exceptional documentation.

"How bad this form of travel is for... the visited cities"

I was holidaying in Split, Croatia when the MS Queen Elizabeth [1] docked and thousands of people descended onto the city from it.

The quiet city became absolutely packed with tour groups from the ship, completely ruined the atmosphere.

I guess the cruise tourists do bring in quite a bit of money from eating in the restaurants, buying souvenirs etc, so not that much of a negative for the locals.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Queen_Elizabeth

As we all know: Building for spiky traffic is the hardest.

Unlike with cloud computing where you can spin up more servers to meet demand, you can't just spin up more city, more streets, more restaurants, more sights, more everything at the drop of a hat when demand spikes. I wonder how much of that traffic spike from a big cruise ship the city is actually able to capture.

If the city was built for peak demand, maybe, but then you'd have to maintain all the infrastructure when the tourists aren't there. So unless you have a new cruise ship every day ...

It's a hard problem. I don't think it's solvable. I'm in Venice right now and the difference between 1pm when it's jam packed with tourists and a total hellhole on earth, and a nice 7am run when it's empty and gorgeous ... yeah it does not even begin to compare. These old cities just weren't built for the kind of foot traffic they get these days as tourist destinations.

> I'm in Venice right now and the difference between 1pm when it's jam packed with tourists and a total hellhole on earth, and a nice 7am run when it's empty and gorgeous ... yeah it does not even begin to compare.

In the case of Venice often you just to avoid the streets that connect turistic POIs. Take a parallel calle 50 metres on the right or left and suddenly you are in a oasis with few tourists and peaceful silence.

> I guess the cruise tourists do bring in quite a bit of money from eating in the restaurants, buying souvenirs etc, so not that much of a negative for the locals.

"Locals" aren't a homogenous group. The city budget does benefit, and so do people working in businesses serving tourists directly - restaurants, gift shops, hotels, ticket offices, etc. Everyone else hates it. Tourism, especially of intermittent kind, disrupts regular life of regular people.

It's also somewhat ironic that a tourist complained that other tourists ruined the vibe once they've arrived, and concluded that everyone else but him was the problem.

Meanwhile, no word from the locals who are living their life catering to those tourists.

There are so many people in this thread and other like it doing the exact same thing. There was a thread a few months ago about Venetian people getting priced out by airBnbs taking over all the housing and destroying the culture, but the chief complaints on HN were from other tourists complaining about cruise goers crowding up the sites.

> The quiet city became absolutely packed with tour groups from the ship, completely ruined the atmosphere

Did you ask the locals what they thought of it? Their city isn't your private quiet getaway. Maybe they wanted the ship there. Or maybe they didn't. But that is their choice and their local government is free to prevent the ship from docking if that's the kind of policy they want to institute.

I talked to some of the locals, very mixed opinions although many saw the benefits to the economy of these big groups. Also governments will not always do what locals want as they might stand more to benefit from ships than the locals.

"I guess the cruise tourists do bring in quite a bit of money from eating in the restaurants"

Aren't most cruise ship full board?

Plus you seem to suggest that visitor numbers are very lumpy which would make it very difficult to size the local restaurant industry. If average summer visitors are 10000, then the QE2 dumps out 20000 visitors for 2 days out of the month, do you size yourself to accommodate 10000 visitors? 30000?

Source: Worked in pubs that hosted coach parties, there was a massive variation in spend from coach to coach.

Yes, most of them are full board. But you just don't want to go back to the ship only for lunch, so you have lunch in the city, where you can have a taste of the local cuisine.


I suspect there's a lot of cultural and generational norms wrapped up in that though. A ship full of Swedes may prefer to return to the boat to eat, a ship full of Spaniards may all want 3 course meals on land, that just makes it harder for the host city to predict demand.

At least for the Company I worked for - most people left on "harbor days". Be it for guided tours, beach days or other events or just plain "I am exploring on my own". Most have to be back in the late afternoon/early evening - so that the cruise-liner can depart on time.

So at least for this company most people did not incur food costs on board for lunch (non the less having paid for it with the package deal).

A few years ago me and my parents wanted to take a cruise in the Baltic making several 1-2 day stops and I have to say I felt the same way.

The ship was massive and had pools, a restaurant, live entertainment but it was obvious that all the people who were employed were semi indentured servants.

Most were from southeast asia and worked 6-8 months away from their families. What broke my heart is that only a small portion could leave the ship whenever we docked and most didn't seem to have passports that allowed entry to European countries without visa so they would just wait in the dock and use up the wifi to face time their spouses and children. Except the wife was really bad and the bandwidth quickly peaked and most were left just being miserable.

It was nice being able to visit all these countries that would otherwise have cost a fortune but man the pure human suffering really broke me.

I met a cruise ship worker from Bali who started staying in the USA illegally because it pays more than the cruise ship. He works in some restaurant and will just keep doing it until he is caught or he wants to get married. Then he will return to his home country. In the mean time he is sending money back home for his family and sister's education.

If you had the power, would you fire them and be the one to give them their notice in person? If they asked why, what would you tell them? "For your own good"?

Or perhaps he would put some serious effort into seeing how their work life could be improved and would work on improving the cruise’s environmental footprint

Instead of asking would you fire them for their own good, rather ask, do you employ them for their own good?

If they voluntarily show up, I think they are judging that I am offering them something better (or at least as good) as their next best option. That’s one formulation of “their own good”.

Yes because terminating someone's employment is the exact moral equivalent of treating someone with dignity in the workplace. Their vast numbers and lengthy shifts clearly imply that their contribution to the operation of the ship is negligible.

Nice straw-man you present here. Or did I anywhere imply what words you try to put in my mouth?

Someone could for example give them the same working protections offered by a German contract. The same work hours. Same wages?

Someone would not have to let them go.

So you're happier that they were employed by the cruise line at all, but preferred they they be given more? I see. Giving them more than their market value is like charity. So perhaps my question should be "Would you give part of your salary to them?" Did you? It's easy to ask someone else to give charity but surely if you really mean it, you'd do it yourself first.

Though you did say "I was so abusing the lower deck people" which, given you didn't want to fire them, implies their normal life would have been even more abusive. So wasn't your company actually helping them already? Isn't that something to feel good about? You were making their lives better. Not as good as your own, but why is that the standard?

Or could you use that power to pay them more even though you didn't have to?

This seems like a net win for the rest of us.

If you've ever been on Roatan or someplace similar when a big cruise ship comes in, you'll know the feeling: Most of the time it's a sleepy little beach town with cheap accommodation and beers, and friendly local folk going about their business. Then one day you wake up and it's "Welcome To Jamaica, Mon!!!"

All the colorful townspeople are out in their Traditional Island Dress, doing their Traditional Island Dance to the Traditional Island Music in the streets. Everybody suddenly has piles of overpriced tourist junk to sell you, and those cheap beers are now $8 each.

Giant flotillas of inflated red kayaks bob around in the bay, carrying inflated pink tourists in inflated orange life vests. Lots of pictures are taken of another Island Paradise.

Then things pack up, heaps of garbage are swept aside, and the place goes back to its old, pleasant, self again.

Life is so good on the "backpacker" side of that experience, and so bad on the "cruiser" side, that it's good to hear that they're finally just sequestering them all away in a single place. If any of them ever want to experience the Carribbean in its actual form, it'll hopefully be waiting there unspoiled.

I’ve been to the Disney cruise private island. It’s interesting, there’s almost no full time employees there. The ship crew gets off and works the island while you are there.

But even if you go on say an Alaska cruise, which is entirely in the USA, the “towns” that you stop in exist solely for the cruise ships. The stores are the same junk at every stop, often owned by the cruise lines, unless you walk to the edge and maybe get something local or family run.

Countries around the world seem to slowly be waking up to this - Cruise ships pollute like hell, make destinations crowded and less pleasant for residents and 'regular' tourists, and also attempt to capture all of the spending of their passengers anyway, limiting any economic benefits.

European cities they frequent are some of the worst for SOx and NOx pollution on the continent and a single line, Carnival, emitted more than all of Europe's cars last year (by a factor of 10 IIRC). Barcelona has started to realise that hoards that rush off the boat, have lunch and rush back on are not worth the meagre boost it gives them.

The cruise industry needs to clean up its act.

The Baltic Sea and the North Sea are Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) and Nitrogen Oxide Emission Control Areas (NECAs). Ships in these areas required to use SOx scrubbers and NOx, reducing devices in new ships. Limits have been gradually tightened. I think they are now as low as 0.10% m/m.

Carnival Cruise Lines has ships outfitted with scrubbers and they operate in these Emission Control Areas. Lower emissions are gradually coming to other areas as well when scrubbers are retrofitted into older ships.

Sounds good, and can't come soon enough!

Personally I'd like it if my home city (Southampton, UK currently) would stop them idling their engines in port for power.

Apparently we don't have the power infrastructure for them to plug in and run their systems from the local grid, so they just sit there churning this stuff out.

> Carnival, emitted more than all of Europe's cars last year (by a factor of 10 IIRC).

Something is always going to be the worst polluter. If the people who took a carnival cruise flew around the world instead, what would the impact be? (And what would happen to the fuel that those cruise ships are currently burning?)

It's still a horriffic stat, but I'd love a nuanced discussion on it!

These figures are from 2006 - so you need to factor in improvements in engineering since then - but The Guardian crunched some figures and said

“According to our calculations, a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight (even allowing for the further damage of emissions being produced in the upper atmosphere”

So the answer would appear to be “jump on the plane”.

There might be a nuance missing, in that if you compare a plane journey vs a cruise you are of course not comparing like to like if you only consider 'CO2 per passenger mile' as aeroplanes are used to travel further than a cruise ship.

I don't know the mileage that they actually cover on a cruise, but at 20kts they could cover 480 miles in 24 hours and bearing in mind that they are spending time in port it will be less than that. Lets estimate 300 miles per day, so a 2 week cruise could rack up ~4200 sea miles. => 1806 Kg of CO2

If I flew from Heathrow to Antigua for those 2 weeks, that would be ~8000 air miles. => 2056 Kg of CO2

Longer trips would take you to different locations. So, sure visiting Australia from Florida would result in more pollution, but that’s not the same experience as a Caribbean cruise.

Alternatively, cruises tend to take meandering inefficient routes - comparable flights will always be shorter.

Agreed. It is very far from an apples to apples comparison.

The cruise liner is also doing hotel and restaurant for the traveler, and there's less of the "taxi to town" involved.

Wow, that's so much worse than I thought. The previous example was just NOx and SOx - I suspected it would win out based on CO2 at least.

My question is still though what would happen to the low grade fuel that they're currently burning? If people started to fly, and the low grade fuel was just burned anyway because it's so cheap (thinking long haul freighter etc), the situation would be worse!

Also c.f. Venice.

Coincidentally I was in Venice for the first time 2 weeks ago. Absolutely beautiful place and I 100% agree with the locals complaints about cruise ships - it really does ruin the touristy parts of Venice. Thankfully you don't need to walk far to get a more authentic Venetian experience.

A question interesting to me: Are cruise ships worse or better than package, tour or individual holidays?

We have millions of people all over the world who want to travel and see the world and enjoy themselves. Assuming we don't ban individual travel we probably want to work out the most environmentally friendly (and socially responsible) way of enabling this.

A network of railway lines across the northern hemisphere connecting to a fleet of wind powered cruise ships? But paying staff a socially responsible wage might push the cost of a holiday up above the once a year point. And figuring in the real environmental cost would cause issues as well.

A cruise ship always strikes me as being a slightly more upscale caravan holiday. You're stuck in a metal box with either a lot of old middle class people or a load of drunk lower class yobs. Only unlike a caravan you're stuck on it.

Perhaps, if you shared a single caravan with hundreds of other people. But other than that I do not think it’s alike at all as you are not dependant on a crew for subsistence nor is your freedom to move/explore restricted in a caravan. Either way both can be very fun holidays if you are willing to see past class prejudices.

It's not so much the class prejudices, it's the booze prejudice. I don't socialize with my wifes upper-middle-class colleagues because they like their wine a little too much.

My worst ever holiday memories are being stuck in a caravan in the late 1980s in wet Wales with way too little room and way too many loud drunk people who kept going until 4am every single night.

Cruise ships are like that only you're completely at the whim of the cruise line. You have 0 freedom and you have to deal with all the tax-evading fake-flag BS which seems to rule the sea.

It means tourist pay money to cruise line. Cruise line keeps most of the money. Local economy benefits a lot less from tourist. Cruise line ships is often registered in tax havens.

Going on a cruise is like a whirlwind tour of the Caribbean as it is. You get, like 6 hours to try to cram in as much of Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, etc as you can and then it's back to the boat and on to the next stop. If you really want to get to know a country it's not the best way to travel.

For some people that’s OK. They don’t want just a short tour of the Caribbean, they want a diverse recreationally holiday. a day doing all the cruise activities, a day in the Caribbean, a day just taking it easy in the ship, etc.

The Economist seemed to miss the "private island" angle. The MSC cruise line just announced one:


(video player window pops up)

That video looks like the intro of a Black Mirror episode.

The Patriot Act recently did a nice episode on cruise-line companies. Just watched it last night.

I've known people to go on these cruises. They love it. Reading some of the HN comments - why not rather discuss concerns with the business owners who enable the "utter turmoil". Vote with what counts - not soapboxes.

I really hope that these ships will get banned in the next 10 years.

As long as customers are informed and locals are not ripped off it should be ok imo

This author is just realizing this now? After decades? Newsflash, buildings grow beyond 10 stories!

> paid for in US dollars, never the Haitian gourde

Presumably the government is getting paid in US dollars too, which is a nice fx source

> Haitians not employed by Royal Caribbean cannot enter.

Can Haitians generally roam free on private property?

> Caribbean countries are “basically giving away parcels of land”

What now? Do we call all foreign private ownership "giving away"? Poor article from The Economist telling us nothing other than rich travelers to Haiti don't want to deal with the downsides of it, which is a story as old as time.

Most western countries don't allow beach ownership, and technically the US doesn't either but has its loop holes. Some European countries even have the "right to pass" over private land if required to access to public land.

I suppose the question worth asking is the average Haitian better off from the economic activity generated from the private parcel.

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