Investment and imagination is transforming the sector, says Andy Harmer, SVP membership and director of Clia UK and Ireland

I have been lucky enough to work in the cruise industry since 2009, and have never seen it so confident about the future, with many lines investing in their fleets, itineraries, ports and shoreside experiences, and reaching out to our widest possible customer demographic.

The latest Clia data shows cruise travel is on the rise, with a projected 27.2 million passengers expected to set sail in 2018. In 2017, an estimated 25.8 million cruised, compared with a confirmed 24.7 million passengers in 2016, an increase of 20.5% over five years, from 2011-2016.

To meet demand, more ships are scheduled to sail in 2018, with 27 new ships from Clia cruise lines this coming year alone. And these ships cover a range of styles, such as ocean, expedition, river and ultra-luxury.

Pace maker

It’s a remarkable transformation for a sector traditionally viewed as niche, but now setting the pace for the whole travel industry in terms of investment, creativity and growth potential.

So why has cruise suddenly become so popular, capturing the imagination of travellers across the world?

First, we owe much to the incredible work done by Clia cruise lines, their dedicated crew, shore-side staff and the industry suppliers, ship designers and builders. As guests leave their holidays they become advocates of cruising – telling friends and family, posting reviews and images on social media, helping us spread the word.

The investment and innovation by cruise lines has been extraordinary. The industry now offers the widest possible choice and quality in terms of dining, entertainment, activities and destinations.

Something for everyone

This choice gives us the second reason for growth – the ability to reach all guests. There is a cruise for every budget, occasion and person, from families, multi-generational families, skip-gen families (grandparents and grandkids without the parents), couples, singles and groups.

And these are holidaymakers attracted by the new experiences cruise now offers. This next evolution of experiential travel sees cruisers taking a step further, seeking ‘transformational’ experiences. From cultural immersion and voluntourism to extreme adventures, they will enjoy a shift in perspective and a sense of accomplishment.

Some upcoming cruise itineraries include the opportunity to indulge in local cuisine, guided tours through small villages and even visits to private homes. Thrill seekers can fill bucket lists with chances to swim with sharks in South Africa, ride a Harley-Davidson in Alaska or mingle among penguins in the Arctic.

And the third reason for cruise’s growth is the ability for travel agents to identify potential cruisers, to understand cruise experiences and differences in products, and to put cruise in front of the millions of holidaymakers who have yet to take their first voyage.

We are entering a really exciting phase in the growth of cruising – so much so that Clia has decided to talk about 2018 as the year of #GenerationCruise.