Cruise tourism research has developed exponentially during the past decades. Global tourism activity in general and cruises in particular are concentrated in coastal areas and represent a dominant part of the so-called ‘blue economy’. Within this context, the public debate surrounding the impact of cruise tourism on port communities reflects a narrative of unsustainable growth, environmental pollution and negative globalization-related symbolism. Yet, the relatively small size of the cruise sector and the over-focus on emissions arguably misrepresents the overall impact and potential of this tourism domain for portside communities, economies and ecosystems. Cruise-related scientific research, as probably expected, offers a much more refined and holistic picture, transcending the somewhat populist public debate on this matter. Based on a systematic literature review examining cruise-related papers published between 1983 and 2009, Papathanassis and Beckmann (2011) Annals of Tourism Research 38(1), 153–174, identified 145 papers, which were subsequently subjected to a metadata- and a thematic-analysis.
Approximately, a quarter of them addressed the environmental-, social- and economic impacts of cruising on coastal regions. A decade later, and following an analogous methodological approach, a total of 305 cruise research papers, published between 2012 and 2022, yielded 161 relevant papers, subjected to the same coding scheme and thematically compared to previous findings. The subsequent thematic analysis, revealed a comprehensive set of issues, opportunities and challenges cruise tourism poses to coastal areas. Following a critical discussion of past developments and their trajectory, a future research and action agenda is proposed.