The number of British and Irish cruise passengers has surpassed the two million mark for the first time.

Figures released by Clia today (April 15) show passenger numbers hit 2,009,000 in 2018, confirming that the UK & Ireland has become the second European market to reach the two million mark after Germany.

The growth in ocean cruises represents a 2% year-on-year increase.

Andy Harmer, Clia UK & Ireland director, said: “It is a great milestone for the whole industry and has come after a lot of effort from a lot of people.

“I started at [cruise trade association] Ace in 2006 so I missed the million mark in 2004. It took more than 150 years to hit the first million and it has taken the last 14 years to hit the two million mark.”

Harmer said as emerging markets grew the UK would have to work harder to maintain its current growth rate.

But he said the global cruise industry had shown “great confidence” in the UK by opting to have several high-profile ship launches in Southampton.

Around 90% of Brits and Irish customers that have cruised for the first time will sail again within 12 months, Harmer said.

“That demonstrates what an incredible job travel agents do,” he added.

Strong growth was seen in cruise passengers travelling to the eastern Mediterranean, up 8.5% to 746,000 passengers, illustrating a beginning of a return to confidence in the region.

Other areas seeing significant growth, from a smaller base, included the Canary Islands, up 9.6%, and the Baltics, up 9%.

The central and western Mediterranean region remains the number one destination for European cruise passengers, and saw growth up by 1.2%, equivalent to 2.27 million passengers. Northern Europe was up 4.8% in 2018, to 1.43 million passengers.