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Cruises are back in Hong Kong but they’re terrible for the environment – so is it really a good thing?

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 4 days ago Mark Footer
  • January 19 saw the first cruise liner to sail from Hong Kong - at least, to somewhere else - in almost three years. At least 82 ship calls are lined up for 2023
  • A large cruise ship has a huge carbon footprint and Silversea Cruises, operator of the January 19 liner, scores particularly badly, according to one report

American aircraft carriers and large white cruise ships used to be common sights in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, but then geopolitics and a nasty little virus happened.

It seems unlikely we'll see the USS Ronald Reagan (last visit: November 2018) or other American warships call by any time soon, but on January 19, the Silver Spirit became the first cruise liner to sail from Hong Kong - at least, to somewhere else - in almost three years.

The 608-luxury-bunk Silversea Cruises ship arrived from Singapore on the morning of January 18 carrying 338 passengers - many European, Australian and American, according to a company spokesperson.

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They "were treated to a warm welcome, including a lion dance performance and goodie bags" after the Silver Spirit had tied up at Tsim Sha Tsui's Ocean Terminal, reported the South China Morning Post.

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The ship left the following day with 257 guests aboard on a 10-day voyage back to Singapore, calling at Halong Bay, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City (all Vietnam) on the way.

And just like that, international cruises became a thing again.

And we are thankful, says Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung:

"We are thankful that Silversea Cruises have cast a vote of confidence in Hong Kong by making an early return. Not only does it signify the return of Hong Kong to the international cruise map, but it also marks another key milestone in the recovery of our tourism industry.

"Being a cosmopolitan city and a cultural melting pot of East and West, Hong Kong is a unique and not-to-be missed destination of cruise itineraries in Asia."

The Silver Spirit arrives in Hong Kong on January 18, 2023. Photo: Sam Tsang © Provided by South China Morning Post The Silver Spirit arrives in Hong Kong on January 18, 2023. Photo: Sam Tsang

To that end, "the Hong Kong Tourism Board has lined up a minimum of 82 ship calls from at least 16 cruise lines this year", reports the Post. Some will even berth at that shiny white elephant known as the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

There is bad news in the resumption of cruise travel as well as good news, however.

Cruise ships are terrible for the environment and although promises have been made by operators regarding zero-emission vessels, clean fuels and "net-zero carbon" cruising, environmental groups remain sceptical, given the industry's record on pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and overtourism.

According to a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin in 2022, a large cruise ship can have a carbon footprint greater than 12,000 cars.

Aircraft carriers, such as US Navy's USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) (pictured), used to be common sights in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. Photo: AFP © Provided by South China Morning Post Aircraft carriers, such as US Navy's USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) (pictured), used to be common sights in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. Photo: AFP

And Silversea Cruises, in particular, ranks disappointingly low on the Friends of the Earth's 2022 Cruise Ship Report Card, with an overall F grade when sewage treatment, air pollution, water quality and transparency indicators are taken into account.

There again, people employed in tourism-related businesses have to make a living and unless they are leading hiking tours, their line of work is likely to involve carbon emissions in some form or other.

It also seems mean-spirited to deny hard-working folks a holiday after so many years of Covid-enforced confinement, and many of them do love their jaunts on the ocean wave; the Cruise Lines International Association expects the industry to exceed its pre-Covid highs in terms of global passenger numbers (almost 30 million in 2019) and revenues this year, and grow to 12 per cent above pre-pandemic levels by 2026.

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It's a conundrum. We live in a world that still eats mountains of meat, still ploughs through single-use plastics (which often come in single-use plastic wraps), still dresses head-to-toe in fast fashion - and a cruise ship has got to be less destructive than an aircraft carrier, hasn't it?

Tripadvisor's top travel destinations for 2023 revealed

Dubai is currently the world's most popular tourist destination, according to Tripadvisor. Photo: Getty Images © Provided by South China Morning Post Dubai is currently the world's most popular tourist destination, according to Tripadvisor. Photo: Getty Images

With the lifting of Covid restrictions, the planet is again open for exploration - well, much of it - and so we're again faced with that old dilemma: where shall we go?

There is no shortage of lists published to let us know where everyone else is heading to, and some of the most comprehensive must be those released by Tripadvisor, which analyses "the millions of reviews from travellers across the world who have visited these destinations over the past 12 months to create the definitive guide to the top travel destinations for [the coming year]".

For 2023, those rankings have been sorted into destinations that - so say the TA crowd - offer the best food, nature, culture and skiing, as well as the most popular destinations (overall and regional) and those that are trending.

Bali leads Tripadvisor's © Provided by South China Morning Post Bali leads Tripadvisor's

Asian destinations feature prominently: "Long-haul trips have made a comeback, and we're seeing a lot of travellers excited to plan trips to Asia and the Pacific region for the first time in several years," says Sarah Firshein, the head of editorial at Tripadvisor.

So, without further ado, the winners:

Most popular overall: Dubai; Bali; and London.

Tripadvisor doesn't count Dubai as being in Asia, so, although it is apparently the world's most popular destination, it is second-placed Bali that leads the "Popular Asian Destinations" sub-list.

We're surprised to see New Delhi bag second place on the Asian list, but numbers three to 10 are fairly easy to guess (have a go, if you like, before reading the last sentence of this column - but bear in mind that cities in China and northeast Asia wouldn't have been given many reviews in 2022).

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The top three trending destinations in the world are: Cuba; Hoi An (Vietnam); and Mauritius.

The top three for food: Rome (Italy); Crete (Greece); and Hanoi (Vietnam).

The top three for nature: Mauritius; Kathmandu (Nepal); and the Serengeti National Park (Tanzania).

The top three for culture: Fes (Morocco); Jerusalem (Israel); and Athens (Greece).

The top three for skiing: Whistler (Canada); Jackson, Wyoming (United States); and Zermatt (Switzerland).

Kathmandu, in Nepal, is in Tripadvisor's top three for nature list. Photo: Getty Images © Provided by South China Morning Post Kathmandu, in Nepal, is in Tripadvisor's top three for nature list. Photo: Getty Images

Does knowing where everyone else is going make your own dilemma easier or more difficult?

Oh, and those other Asian top 10 destinations are, in descending order: Phuket, Hanoi, Bangkok, Jaipur, Goa, Da Nang, Singapore and Jakarta.

Happy travels.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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