Stringent environmental regulations imposed on cruise ships may result in a dramatic decrease in the number of mid-sized vessels at sea and result in a dearth of affordable midmarket product, a WTM panel heard.

Speaking during a Travel Weekly session called Taking Responsibility for Cruise, Reader Offers director Nigel Lingard said a growing number of older ships would be forced into retirement as they would not be able to meet guidelines.

Lingard, a former marketing director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, said his former line had been forced to retire one popular ship and completely refurbish two others to bring them up to modern standards.

And he said the increasingly tight regulations due to come into force around 2015 could force other lines into similar situations and leave customers with a choice between large, modern megaships and smaller luxury vessels with higher price points.

“Ships have a natural lifespan so it is not necessarily always a bad thing, but there is a risk that there will be a shortage of midsize, affordable options,” he said.

Panellists at the debate hailed the cruise industry’s global approach to sustainability, with improvements to fuel efficiency, recycling and waste onboard tallied with a collaborative approach with destinations on shore excursions and time in port.

And they also responded to criticism about crew conditions, most recently aired in the UK on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme.

Simon Pickup, sustainable tourism manager at Abta, said cruise lines and associations were working to ensure all relevant human rights and employment regulations were met.

And Lingard said many of the problems with crew conditions and satisfaction arose when third-party agencies became involved in recruitment – a practice many lines were looking to eradicate.