Nicola Caygill gives a fresh perspective on cruising.
Most of you will be aware of the questionable practices of big ship cruises, both environmental and social. I want to balance this with good news from the small ship tourism sector. I run a small ship cruise company that sells trips on small ships of around 100 passengers or fewer.
My passion for travel that benefits its destination came from a trip to Nepal when I was 17 year old. Seeing the affect that tourism had on its people gave me the impetus to start a tourism degree and a career that offers travel that is sustainable on environmental, social and economic aspects. It has its difficulties when working in a niche in an industry that is dominated by big ships as my job is to spread the word offering an alternative that is very different to the mainstream offering. I certainly don’t have the budget of the big ship operators. I’d like to cite some great initiatives among my suppliers showing they green and keen to do the right thing. These cruise lines are not signing up to the ‘love it to death’ destination degradation line of thinking, they truly want to preserve the pristine environs that they operate within and can’t operate without.
I would argue there are some destinations that can only be fully appreciated by travelling on a small ship. This is true of the Galapagos where Ecuadorian born guides are employed, a wonderful culturally sympathetic gesture to its people. These guides take groups of up to 16 people ashore at a time in order to not cause a stir in the environment, which is why the majority of the 80 or so boats in the Galapagos are just 16 or 32 passenger vessels. In Antarctica, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) rules dictate only 100 people are to be ashore at one time for the same environmental reasons. Every year the member operators get together to determine which policies, procedures, challenges and tasks are agreed to by at least a two-thirds majority of members.
Alaska is a popular destination for small ship cruising too, as the small vessels allow guests to go to inlets that the big ship passengers only dream of. One of our cruise lines there publishes a sustainability report every year which outlines commitments such as carbon neutrality/offsetting, their results in their Green Tourism Canada audits, partnerships that support energy projects, the creation of recycling centres, supporting science and conservation groups and not only do they offer sustainable seafood options but they are also locally sourced.
Speaking of sustainable produce, a Costa Rican cruise line I promote offers home grown Costa Rican Beef grass fed from a supplier that uses no chemicals or antibiotics in their husbandry. Their fruits and vegetables are also pesticide and chemical free under international organic guidelines. Through the Costa Rican Ministry of Education and its ‘National Program for Marine Education’, specially chosen students visit the dock to learn about the full spectrum of the group’s conservation work. The crew recycle and offer the guests refillable water bottles, saving the use of over 1000 disposable water bottle per trip.
Another company operates on the great Chobe River that borders Namibia and the Chobe National Park in Botswana, using four luxury houseboats. They offer the latest, most fuel efficient and lowest emission generators during the day and after 10pm the boat switches over to the battery power through the night. Hot water comes from solar heating, and a water jet propulsion system replaces the conventional propeller system, causing no damage to the riverbed and/or fauna and flora.
On a social level, they employ local Namibian staff, are committed to continuous training and are part of the Wilderness Foundation which supports community projects as well as anti-poaching programs. They also assist the community by offering University scholarship funding, supplying medical equipment, stationery, local community transport and training in useful skills to improve knowledge and increase employment possibilities.
I believe small ship cruising operators have a vested interest in helping to keep the environment and cultures on their itineraries pristine and pure. Unlike the big ships operators, they know that to offer a small amount of people a more hands-on destination experience they need to leave the environment as they found it.
Nicola Caygill is Managing Director of Australian company Micro-Cruising Pty Ltd