This vacation season, lots of people are traveling far from home, often by sea. Cruises have become increasingly popular in recent years. But are these visits boons or annoyances to the local places that host them?
In a 2011 paper for Tourism and Hospitality Research, Juan Gabriel Brida, Eugenia Riaño, and Sandra Zapata Aguirre asked residents of one cruise destination, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, for their opinions.
Cartagena de Indias was, as of 2010, a city of 900,000. In the 2008-09 cruise season, more than 200,000 cruise passengers visited the port there.
The researchers asked 1,001 city residents what they thought of the cruise industry. For the most part, their opinions were positive. Eighty percent said the government should encourage the arrival of cruise ships, and only 15 percent wanted to limit the number of cruise passengers arriving in the city. Three quarters agreed that cruises attract investment and generate employment, although 72 percent also said that only a small sector of residents benefit from the business.
Residents did see some drawbacks to cruises, with half of the respondents citing traffic problems and 45 percent saying tourists over-saturated community services. On the other hand, 75 percent said meeting cruise passengers was a valuable experience, and 80 percent said the industry supports conservation and the development of natural and cultural attractions.
But those raw numbers conceal big differences of opinion among city residents. To understand which locals held which positions, Brida, Riaño, and Zapata Aguirre divided their respondents into four clusters based on a number of criteria.
The first group of 155 residents was made up of cruise tourism opponents who saw the industry causing crowding, traffic, and inflation, without bringing jobs to the city. Most members of the group were women, and they tended to be more highly educated and older than average.
A second group of 287 people was neutral to cruise development. This group was mostly male, and it included lots of students. Most of these respondents had no relatives working in tourism and no contact with cruise passengers.
The largest grouping, with 451 members, was the lowest-income group and the most supportive of cruise tourism. These respondents often owned shops or were self-employed. Few worked in tourism-related jobs or had relatives who did. Still, they were convinced of the economic benefits of the cruises and less likely than any other group to blame them for problems.
The final group of 111 people was made up mostly of people with jobs related to the cruise industry. Almost all of them said the contact they’d had with cruise tourists was positive, and most said tourism had attracted investment and spending to the city and helped residents. On the other hand, most people in this group also thought cruises drove up local prices and harmed the city’s lifestyle.
The study authors note that their results aren’t necessarily generalizable to other ports, but they do suggest the variety of opinions people in cruise destinations may hold about the industry.