Abstract: Caribbean cruise ship tourism presents threats to the natural environment that are failing to be addressed by existing policy and enforcement mechanisms. An environmental tax in the form of a ‘user fee’ is proposed as an incentive-based policy instrument. The two-fold effects would be 1) the capture of more economic rent for Caribbean destinations’ natural resources, and 2) a reduction of the environmentally harmful activity of mass cruise ship tourism in the area.
1. Cruise ships and the environment: the state of the situation
The cruise industry is a sector of tourism with two characteristics that are important to understanding its environmental impact: its rate of growth and spatial concentration in the Caribbean Sea. This rapid rate of growth combined with the tendency to concentrate on or near ecologically dynamic coastal environments (many of which are considered biodiversity hotspots) in the Caribbean raise important policy questions about how to preserve the natural resources upon which the industry depends.
In terms of measuring the size and growth of the cruise industry, different sources use different indicators, including number of passengers, number of beds, number of ships, etc. but all agree that cruise tourism is one major growth area of the travel industry. By one measure, cruise tourism as a global phenomenon has demonstrated an 8% annual growth rate since 1980 (Johnson, 2002) which is around double the growth rate of tourism overall. A cruise industry overview notes that 22 new state-of-the-art ships were contracted to be added to the North American fleet in 2009 (FCCA, 2009). The newest cruise ships are bigger and bigger. They rely on cutting edge technological features as well as economies of scale. In some destinations and ports of call, issues of congestion have emerged, and the environmental carrying capacity of the entire Caribbean region is being questioned.