In the lead-up to each issue, we challenge emerging designers to respond to the Frame Lab theme with a forward-looking concept. Remote travel destinations are growing in popularity as consumers increasingly seek exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But how do you offer hospitality in uncharted environments? In our May/June 2020 issue Frame 134, three emerging designers shared their ideas.

Aiming to ensure a more sustainable tourism industry, June Tong suggests port-side energy recovery systems that repurpose the waste from cruise ships to benefit host communities. Tong holds a Master’s degree in Architecture from London’s Royal College of Art. In her thesis she explored how design can expose cruise guests to the sheer wastefulness of the travel industry, and how waste can be reconsidered as an integral part of the cruise experience.

You have noticed a rise in the desire for transformative experiences . . .

JUNE TONG: Yes, and the experience economy has contributed to this trend. Particularly in privileged Western cultures, mass production – and thus the ease with which people can purchase and obtain material possessions – has made the pursuit to accumulate objects less appealing. Now it’s the intangible gathering of memories and adventures – something I call the ‘neo-spiritual quest for stories’, which are then promoted on social media – that’s become the channel for self-fulfilment and happiness. We seek ‘conversational assets’ for status, to distinguish ourselves from, and impress, our peers

So where does the topic of ‘remote hospitality’ come in?

The hospitality industry offering remote experiences simultaneously validates and capitalizes upon this pursuit for exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime adventures. Cruise tourism in particular enables mass audiences to reach otherwise inaccessible places in complete comfort and luxury. But when a cruise ship arrives at port and passengers disembark, there’s a sudden deluge within a very short timeframe. Crowds can catalyse the decline of delicate natural environments and fragile ecosystems. At the same time, this mass tourism erodes traditional cultures and disrupts economic balance, all while the cruise ship itself deposits vast quantities of waste and pollution out of guests’ sight.

How do you think design can help solve this problem?

I question how design can become a tool to expose the self-perpetuating problem caused by this indulgent experiential tourism. I envision that one temporary solution can be an energy strategy that transforms abundant waste into a commodity. Every day, an average-sized cruise ship of 3,000 guests is predicted to release 95,000 litres of sewage, 540,000 litres of greywater, 7 tonnes of garbage and solid waste, 57 litres of toxic chemicals and 26,500 litres of oily bilge water: but what if these vast volumes of deposited cruise waste could become a new, free and abundant source of power for the communities living along the ship’s route? Many remote, isolated communities struggle to source a constant and reliable stream of energy.

How would it work?

Waste would be meticulously pre-sorted and categorized on board – taking advantage of the arrival of the cruise ship, relevant solid waste could be delivered directly into a port-side energy recovery system. This system could then repurpose the cruise ship waste otherwise destined for landfill to be used to produce power in the host community. Rather than being lost, excess process heat would be transported to cooperatively owned local facilities such as destination spas and other small ventures. This would encourage the locally led growth of a more sustainable tourist industry.

We need to reevaluate the general attitude towards the experience economy and the whole industry around it

Is this a means to regulate cruisers’ trips?

Absolutely. The guests’ experiences become regulated and framed by their waste output. The proposal promotes the less wasteful and financially advantageous model of long-stay tourism – it deters the exorbitance of cruise travels by limiting the access and facilities available during tourists’ ‘brief encounters’, ultimately benefitting the host community. 

Why such restrictions?

We need to reevaluate the general attitude towards the experience economy and the whole industry around it. It will be necessary in the future to limit the expansion of destructive mass tourism to ensure the protection of remote environments from further anthropogenic deterioration.