Part 1: Are we better off without cruise ships?
Why Aruba should consider shifting its focus towards stay-over tourism and reducing its reliance on cruise ships
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Aruba, the beautiful Caribbean island known for its crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant culture, has long been a popular destination for tourists worldwide. However, as the island’s tourism industry grows, concerns about its impact on the environment, the community, and its unique cultural heritage are mounting. In particular, the growing number of cruise ships visiting the island raises questions about Aruba’s tourism industry’s sustainability and long-term viability.
In this article, I will explore the case for reducing Aruba’s reliance on cruise ships and shifting towards a more sustainable, community-focused approach to tourism that promotes responsible travel practices, protects the island’s fragile ecosystems, preserves its rich cultural heritage, and brings real economic benefit for the residents.
A stranger in a suit and tie
I admit that I had never really stopped to think about the benefits or the impact of cruises on our island. I, like many perhaps, was under the impressionism that “more is better.” That changed when I attended an AHATA meeting with international speaker, destination advisor, and tourism expert Doug Lansky. It took him to raise some questions and point out some facts that really made me have a second look at those giant cruise ships that visit our port regularly and crowd our streets. His speech was thoughts provoking and, I guess, planted the seed for this article. There is a clip here if you want to hear him in person. I thank that man in a suit and tie for giving me food for thought.
GDP per capita
While the cruise ship industry has undoubtedly brought economic benefits to Aruba over the years, there is little evidence to suggest that it has significantly contributed to raising the GDP per capita. A good junk of the cruise ship passengers’ spending is either included in their ticket price or goes towards activities and amenities provided by the cruise lines, such as onboard shopping, dining, and entertainment. As a result, very little of the money spent by cruise ship passengers stay on the island and benefits the local economy. One source tells me the contribution to the GDP per capita is less than 3%. If that is the case, the benefit for the community is minimal and marginal at best.
How we measure success
The problem with this is that we – and by we, I mean policymakers and tourism and cruise ship authorities – generally do not look at the GDP per capita numbers but only focus on getting more headcount year after year, and that is how we measure “success” and that is how we boast about our “success”. Wonder how many cruise calls we get? Check out the schedule here.
When doing so, “we” often cite data from interest groups like Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association taken from reports like that seem somewhat biased and are likely more concerned about glorifying the benefits they bring to the islands. Lansky also mentioned this aspect during his keynote.
For example, the 2018 report mentioned in the previous link cites the total employment of 2,255 persons in Aruba. I can assure you that they have a particular way of defining employment because I am confident that the cruise ships that visit Aruba do not have employment contact with 2,255 individual residents. So someone is cooking the numbers. Incidentally, I saw a report made by the vacation rentals association also citing, If I am not mistaken, an even higher “employment” number. Their magic number is derived by stating:
“On average, each passenger and crew visit generated $131.68 in total direct expenditures. The $103 million in total expenditures, in turn, generated 2,255 jobs paying more than $38 million in wages”.
Wages of $ 38 million. Really? That must be a hell of a financial model that can take the “direct expenditure” and translate that into the number of local jobs and wages created by the cruise ship visit. Then again, with the correct assumptions, consultants can always come up with a number that serves their master.
I can’t imagine crew members being big spenders as I usually see many crew members spread out like refugees, hugging the “free wi-fi” around my office in town. Besides, $131.69 doesn’t buy them much more than a tour or a ride to the beaches with some basic refreshments and maybe some trinkets at one of the tourist traps.
I suppose they also include in their “employment” head count those scavenger-like persons that stand in front of the mall along the Arubus bus stop that tries to push the tourists into their store for a commission. Is this the five-star destination we are promoting?
Emissions and waste?
Interestingly, such industry reports contain no data on the carbon emissions and waste generated by cruise ships each time they make a port call. I also don’t see a reference to how their waste is disposed of during a visit or any indication of waste disposal or not in our waters or our already overflowing Parkietenbos. How is this waste dealt with? What is our plan for dealing with possible contamination from the ships? Is the legislation or the port rules up to par? Is the enforcement taking place, or are we choosing to look the other way and ignore the subject? Should we not be having this discussion publicly?
Stay-over vs. cruise ship
In contrast, stay-over tourism typically generates more revenue for the economy as visitors spend more money on accommodations, food, and activities provided by local businesses. This can help create more(actual) jobs and opportunities for residents and support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. Moreover, stay-over tourists tend to be more interested in exploring the island and immersing themselves in local culture and customs, which can help promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of Aruba’s unique heritage.
While cruise ship tourism can bring some economic benefits to Aruba, the sustainability and long-term viability of the island’s tourism industry depend on a more balanced and responsible approach to tourism that considers the needs of both tourists and locals. Aruba can help create a more sustainable, equitable, and community-focused tourism industry that benefits everyone by promoting stay-over tourism and reducing its reliance on cruise ships.
Benefits vs. concerns
Despite the economic benefits of cruise ship tourism, concerns are mounting about its impact on the environment, local communities, and the long-term sustainability of Aruba’s tourism industry. The large number of cruise ships visiting the island each year has led to concerns about pollution, overcrowding, and damage to the island’s fragile ecosystems.
In addition, the majority of spending by cruise ship passengers goes towards activities and amenities provided by the cruise lines themselves, leaving very little money to benefit the local economy. This has led to questions about the equity and fairness of the island’s tourism industry and whether it genuinely helps all community members. To address these concerns, some advocate for a shift towards stay-over tourism or to restrict the cruise ships’ flow, which is believed to be more sustainable, responsible, and community-focused. Should we not discuss these aspects, or should we keep looking at outperforming the previous year’s numbers? Let’s have a look at some of these concerns.
Cruise ships contribute to air and water pollution and the destruction of coral reefs and other marine life. By reducing the number of cruise ships, Aruba can help preserve its natural environment and protect its delicate ecosystems.
A focus on stay-over tourism can promote sustainable development by encouraging responsible tourism practices and minimizing the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and local communities. Perhaps we would be better off by having less access to offerings so that we can focus on quality and demand a higher rate for our offerings. What if fewer tourists visited our national park but paid a higher price for the experience? I always thought we wanted to have the big spenders; if this is the case, why are we catering to the masses?
Stay-over tourists tend to be more interested in immersing themselves in local culture and traditions, which can help preserve Aruba’s unique cultural heritage and traditions. Our musea could benefit from more visitors paying a higher cover to learn about our cultural heritage.
Shifting towards stay-over tourism can help Aruba invest in infrastructure improvements that benefit tourists and locals, such as better health care, education, waste management, and upgrades to public facilities and public services.
Higher spending power
Stay-over tourists tend to have a higher spending power than cruise ship passengers, as they typically have more time to explore the island and are willing to pay more for experiences and activities. This can help Aruba attract more high-end tourism and increase its overall revenue.
Cruise ships can cause overcrowding in popular tourist destinations, leading to negative experiences for tourists and locals. By reducing the number of cruise ships, Aruba can help spread out its tourism industry and make the island a more enjoyable and sustainable destination.
A focus on stay-over tourism can help Aruba plan for long-term sustainable development. It encourages a more balanced and responsible approach to tourism that considers the needs of tourists and locals. This can help ensure the island’s tourism industry remains strong and sustainable for years.
More community engagement
Stay-over tourism encourages community engagement, as tourists interact more with locals and participate in cultural activities and events. This can help promote mutual understanding and respect between tourists and locals, leading to a more positive and sustainable tourism industry.
Improved destination branding
Shifting towards stay-over tourism can help Aruba improve its destination branding by promoting its unique culture, history, and natural attractions. This can help differentiate Aruba from other Caribbean destinations and attract more high-value tourists interested in authentic and sustainable travel experiences.
Flora and fauna
Another reason Aruba should consider reducing its reliance on cruise ships and promoting stay-over tourism is to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on its flora and fauna. Aruba is home to a unique and delicate ecosystem vulnerable to damage from excessive tourism, particularly in areas popular for off-roading activities. UTV vehicles and other off-road vehicles can cause soil erosion, damage vegetation, and disruption of wildlife habitats.
Aruba can encourage tourists to explore the island more responsibly and sustainably by promoting stay-over tourism, such as through guided nature walks or eco-tours. This can help minimize the impact of tourism on the island’s fragile ecosystems and protect its flora and fauna for future generations to enjoy.
This is part 1 of this series. Next week I will elaborate on some other aspects. The concerns raised about the impact of cruise ship tourism on Aruba’s environment, economy, and cultural heritage are significant and require serious consideration by stakeholders and policymakers.
While the cruise ship industry has brought economic benefits to the island, there is a growing recognition that a more balanced and sustainable approach to tourism is needed to ensure the long-term viability of Aruba’s tourism industry. This requires a frank and open discussion among all community members, including tourism stakeholders, policymakers, and residents. Only by working together can we develop an equitable, responsible, and sustainable tourism industry that benefits all Aruban community members. We have a choice to make and a decision to take.
This choice cannot be left unaddressed, and we must act now to ensure a bright and sustainable future for the tourism of Aruba and our community in general. These views are not a mere rant against those who make a living from these cruise ships but rather a call for action to have a second look at the facts and have an open discussion about where we want Aruba to be for the years to come for the benefit of our children and the generations to come.
Environmental concerns: The Environmental Impacts of Cruise Ships” by Greenpeace:
Economic benefits:Economic benefits: The Economic Impact of Tourism” by the World Travel & Tourism Council
Sustainability: Sustainable Tourism: A Comprehensive Guide to Sustainable Tourism Practices” by the United Nations Environment Programme:
Cultural preservation: Preserving Cultural Heritage: Looking to the Future” by UNESCO
Improved infrastructure: Infrastructure Investment for Tourism Development” by the World Tourism Organization