Community impact

Cruise companies and cruise ships negatively impact communities through air and water pollution, economic leakage and tax avoidance, as well as overtourism. Such negative impacts can arise where cruise companies are based, where they pass through, and where they dock.


Even though some cruise companies have responded to pollution issues when building new ships in recent years, most cruise liners still score badly when it comes to emissions, treatment of sewage and noise pollution. Most cruise ships sail with cheap heavy oil, which is particularly toxic and harmful to the environment. Furthermore, many cruise ships use outdated technology to treat sewage before discharging it into the sea, resulting in significant amounts of faecal bacteria, heavy metals, and nutrients entering the open water, with negative impacts on ecosystems. There have also been reports of cruise ships throwing waste overboard. Cruise ships mostly keep their engines running, including when docked. Related air pollution can have negative health impacts on residents living near the port.

Economic leakage

Cruise ships commonly sail under the flags of a small group of countries that are considered tax havens by the OECD and have weak labour laws, enabling cruise owners to avoid taxes, provide poor working conditions and wages and follow potentially dangerous security practices. While cruise liners profit from systems and public services in the places they operate most, they generally do not pay taxes to these places. As passengers eat most of their meals on board, shop at cruise company-owned duty-free shops and participate in excursions organised by the cruise company, very little money they spend flows into the economies of the local communities they visit.  


Opinions about the responsibility of cruises for overtourism are divided. Regardless, it is clear that cruise passengers temporarily overflow certain destinations when docking, which is particularly harmful for small destinations. In some places, protests against overtourism have targeted the cruise industry.

Venice residents have voted to ban large cruise ships from sailing through the city. Cruise liners are planned to be redirected to another route into the Venice lagoon and a terminal on the mainland. Locals are worried that the ships threaten the foundations of Venetian buildings. Furthermore, they refer to cruise ships as a major source of pollution and overtourism in Venice, which has negative consequences on people as well as on the city’s buildings and heritage.

Each year, about 2 million tourists visit Santorini, and many of them arrive by cruise ship. Tests have shown that the air pollution on the island in the vicinity of the cruise ships is up to 100 times higher than in other areas and about 17 times higher than next to a heavily frequented road.

Air pollution might have negative impacts on the health of passengers and of Santorini residents.  

Tourists and cruise ships could be turned away under new plans to protect Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik has introduced a strategy to stagger cruise arrivals in order to reduce the number of cruise passengers visiting the city at the same time. According to reports, the plan will lead to a more even distribution of visits throughout the week.

The video shows that not only do air emissions of cruises have a major negative impact on the environment, but also the large volumes of waste and sewage which are sometimes discarded untreated into the sea. 

A ranking by the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union Germany (NABU) gives bad scores to cruise liners when it comes to environmental pollution. Some companies, however, have built new cruise liners that sail with liquid gas, which has fewer negative impacts on the environment. 

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Include clauses in the Supplier Code of Conduct ensuring economic benefits to local communities, minimal pollution etc. and ensure cruise partners sign the Supplier Code of Conduct

Supplier assessment

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.