Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Sustainability Disclosure and a Legitimacy Crisis: Insights from Two Major Cruise Companies

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Sustainability Disclosure and a Legitimacy Crisis: Insights from Two Major Cruise Companies

Article excerpt


The cruise sector is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic segments of the entire tourism and leisure travel market (Cruise Market Watch, 2015; Xiao Dong, Xiao Rong, Xue Gang, 2015). However, cruise holidays are labelled as a unsustainable typology of tourism (Butt, 2007). The growth of the cruise sector (for example, the European cruise market grew from 3.4 million passengers in 2006 to 5.5 million passengers in 2010 according to CLIA Europe Statistics 2014) highlights a serious problem of sustainability in terms of negative environmental and social impact: the growing demands from new passengers requires the construction of increasingly large ships, which in turn have increasing impacts on the marine environment and the cruise destinations (Bonilla-Priego, Font, & Pacheco-Olivares, 2014; Brida & Zapata, 2009; Johnson, 2002; Klein, 2011; Wood, 2000).

The categories of eco-justice and ecoefficiency (Bebbington & Gray, 2001; Young & Tilley, 2006) are hard to apply to the cruise context, when we consider that, during navigation, a ship stops in a port for a limited period to load goods and offload waste. A negative pay-off is therefore generated between the resources taken and the waste left, producing inefficiency in terms of sustainability. Moreover, local communities perceive a worsening of their own quality of life when they encounter affluent tourists that waste the local scarce resources (Jordan, Vogt, & DeShon, 2015). Actually, cruise tourists and owners are located in countries in the north of the world, while the most popular routes are those of the southern seas (i.e. Caribbean islands), giving rise to further disparity in the distribution of wealth and negative externalities. Additional social concerns relate to changes to indigenous value systems, traditional lifestyles and behaviours at ports of call, to food safety and health for passengers and to working conditions for crew members (Jones, Hillier, & Comfort, 2016).

In response to the increasingly strict environmental regulations and the social and political pressure concerning these topics, cruise companies have enhanced the level of voluntary reporting on social, environmental and economic responsibilities, producing report, which are usually available on corporate institutional websites (Jones et al., 2016; Morhardt, 2010).

As explained by Bebbington, Larrinaga, and Moneva (2008) and in line with the theoretical basis of the legitimacy theory (Adams, Hill, & Roberts, 1998; Deegan, 2002), voluntary reporting on sustainability topics is driven by the aim of managing corporate reputation and legitimacy, as well as the risk linked to negative events. Thus, sustainability reports can be used as a managerial tool and their content changed according to the companies' specific purposes. For the above-mentioned reason, it is worthwhile to understand what happens to sustainability communication when a company is responsible for an event with highly negative repercussions on both the environment and the society. Previous studies have attempted to describe this situation (Harlow, Brantley, & Harlow, 2011; Lee & Blanchard, 2012; Matacena, 2010; Michelon, 2012; Sorensen, 2012; Volo & Pardew, 2013) but there are no common conclusive findings. This work aims to contribute to existing research using the case of a huge event with negative externalities and widely reported in the media, such as the sinking of the ship named Costa Concordia, to analyse possible changes occurred in the sustainability communication of its holding company Carnival Corporation & PLC (CCL) and its most direct competitor Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL).

The analysis of the sustainability praxis before and after the wrecking of Costa Concordia is pointed out to answer the following questions:

* RQ1: Does the sustainability disclosure of CCL change after the occurrence of the industrial disaster of Costa Concordia? …

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