The cruise sector has undergone a significant transformation over the past decades, rendering it amongst the fastest growing tourism segments. Nevertheless, cruise holidays represent a relatively small fraction of the entire tourism sector; and so do their economic impacts and externalities. The cruise business has emerged as a result of technological developments in passenger air-transportation and the resulting decline of passenger-shipping. While the increased visibility and over-exposure of its market and product developments may have enabled the re-invention and growth of the cruise sector, they are also amplifiers for its economic and sustainability risks. The purpose of this paper is to relativise both the potential risks and benefits to contribute to more pragmatism in future destination development investments and policies.
Based on a brief historical analysis of cruising and current trends, a realistic future is painted where the passenger and capacity growth rates of cruise tourism gradually level out.
Moreover, the cruise business becomes increasingly technologically driven to maintain profitability and establish its position in the wider experience portfolio of holiday consumers.
Traditionally, the relevance argument for cruise tourism research is based on the reported sector's growth rates and corresponding impacts, positive and negative, on destinations. Yet, the mere reproduction of growth rates and passenger numbers in isolation may well foster a misconception and even an overstatement of the cruise sector's significance and role within the wider tourism context. Arguably, the historical analysis and the comparative statistics contained in this paper paint a much-needed realistic picture and contribute to a deeper understanding of the sector's current dynamics.
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