What have we learned from travelling to Mediterranean on a cruise ship?

Ihar and I have been travelling to Asia and the UK in the last few years. In 2017, we aim to see and learn about our European neighbours. The common ways of travelling from the UK to Europe is either by flying or taking train. However, we wanted to try something new: seeing Europe from the water.

We booked ourselves 5 nights voyage with Costa Deliziosa around Mediterranean sea. As its name, Costa Deliziosa ship is owned by an Italian company Costa Cruise. This ship has been in operation since 2010.

Our journey began in Marseille (France) and ended in Venice (Italy). In between, we stopped in three cities: Savona, Napoli (Italy) and Dubrovnik (Croatia). Each stop lasted for 6-8 hours which mean we spent most of our time on board.

Family and disable friendly environment

Costa Deliziosa is one giant ship. The 12-deck ship can carry up 2,826 passengers in double occupancy of 1,130 cabins.

Passengers have access to public facilities (located in deck 2, 3, 9 and 10) like library, fitness centre, swimming pool, spa, sauna, theatre, dance floor, toilet etc. Several bars and restaurants opened simultaneously to serve passengers from early in the morning until late after midnight.

Crew members created friendly environment for everyone. The services accommodates wide-range of passengers: from babies to senior citizens, either physically fit or disabled person. However, presumably because of long journey and financial reasons, majority of passengers were white and over 50. Some young families and couples were onboard including those from Eastern Europe.

Crew members were well-trained and attentive. Take the example of entertainment team. As much as possible, they included old and young passengers in their activities. They encouraged senior passengers and children, who usually were very reserve, to dance.  During group lesson, crew members partnered with senior passengers, patiently teaching them to move their hips. However bad the dance was, no one made a joke nor laugh about it. Everyone was simply being themselves.

From single ID to Fintech

Technology played critical roles in operational activities and service delivery. Each passenger was given a Costa Card which has multiple functionalities: room key, payment and personal ID.

Costa Card: door key, payment and digital ID in a single card.

Cash payment was not allowed on board. Linked to credit card or deposit, Costa Card replaced cash transaction. It was basically function as fintech. Passengers used Costa Card to order drinks and foods, shopping, excursion, playing casino etc. Any irregularity in transaction is shortly noticed. Crew members called their managers who had access to transaction history.

Passengers also used Costa Card as digital ID. Crew member scanned our card whenever we left or returned back to the ship. Showing passport was not necessary because this card also stored our picture and personal information – including passport number.

I imagined this is how fintech and digital ID going to change our lives. We would surrender our personal information in exchange for convenience. What I had not imagine was its leading actors. I thought it was going to be non-profit organisations, tech startups or universities. But it was in Costa Deliziosa, with Costa Card in hands, we experience fintech and digital ID in day-to-day lives and in completely working operational scale.

What are non-economic costs?

With our limited experience, we had some difficulties understanding the composition of crew members, partly because the scale of their operation. It was big operational work and with hundreds of staff on board.

We mainly interacted with crews working in front desk, cabins, bars and restaurants. Those working in bars and restaurant were mainly from the Philippines. We soon learned there were only five Indonesians worked in bars; majority of crew members from Indonesia worked in cabins (i.e. cleaning service). Performers, managers and leaders were mostly from European countries including the UK, the rest came from Latin America. We could see crew members were classified based on nationalities, roles and responsibilities.

With the exception of front desk and entertainment team, crew members had limited interaction with passengers. They talked and answered questions as needed and as quick as possible. Crew member had limited access on board: they were not allowed to roam around the ship. I presume this rule applies on the basis of tasks and responsibilities.

Another thing that bothered me was the environmental cost. I could not stop thinking about the energy, waste and cost required to provide electricity, foods, clean water and entertainments for all passengers. After all, it was a giant ship floating in the middle of ocean.

Offshore, local residents complained about cruise ships taking over their city. In Dubrovnik during summer, up to 10,000 cruise ship passengers flooded the in old city at a time. Residents in Venice argue cruise ships entering the city contributing to the sinking of the islands on average 2-4mm per year.

We certainly enjoyed our trip. We met inspiring people on board and offshore. We also learned about the histories and power struggle over trade and influence in each city, especially in Durbovnik and Venice. At the same time, we had (and still have) uneasy feeling about cruise ships. In one hand, it promotes tourism and provides incomes for people working in the industry, directly and indirectly. In the other hand, its long term impacts in society and environment is often neglected. The big question is how to make it ethical and sustainable. We don’t have this answer yet.