Going Overboard

Booming cruise industry could bring less eco-friendly tourists to Belize

Jumping into oceanCruise tourism in Belize is skyrocketing, with hundreds of thousands of passengers now disembarking on the country’s shores each year. While Belize has typically been touted as an ecotourism spot, cruise passengers may be less environmentally-minded than other types of visitors, according to a study accepted for publication in Ocean and Coastal Management.

The number of cruise tourists arriving in Belize reached 597,370 per year in 2008 – a “staggering” increase of 1,140 percent since 2001, the study says. Cruises have a reputation for being unsustainable because of the large number of tourists they bring, potential impacts on the ocean, and weaker links to the local economy.

Overnight and cruise tourists in Belize were surveyed to find out their opinions on conservation issues, such as whether they considered marine protected areas important. While both groups generally agreed with these types of statements, overnight tourists expressed more concern for the environment than cruise tourists on all five questions. Cruise tourists also ranked their cruise company’s environmental ethics as one of the least important factors in their vacation choice, behind safety, price, and cultural experiences.

Surveys suggested that cruise tours sometimes ignored environmental policies, such as a rule restricting the number of tourists per guide in marine protected areas. Belize relies on its natural attractions to bring in ecotourists and divers, the study says, but the cruise industry could put those areas at risk. – Roberta Kwok

Source: Diedrich, A. 2010. Cruise ship tourism in Belize: The implications of developing cruise ship tourism in an ecotourism destination. Ocean & Coastal Management DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2010.04.003.

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