An increasing number of first-timers are being attracted to cruising as prices remain fiercely competitive.
Four out of every 10 passengers – or almost 700,000 – were first-timers in 2011, offsetting a drop in the number of people taking more than one cruise a year.
Figures from the Passenger Shipping Association’s 2011 Cruise Review shows that almost 1.7 million Britons cruised last year, up by 4.8% on the previous year.
But they paid an average of just £132 per day – the same as in 2005 – despite rising costs of fuel and food.
The overall increase in passengers means that one in every eight package holiday last year was a cruise, compared to one in 25 nine years ago, according to the PSA.
The growth coincided with the number of British holidaymakers taking a foreign holiday falling to its lowest level so far this century, the report says.
Eight in 10 cruise passengers continue to book through a travel agent, the review shows.
But the rise in first-timers affected the booking pattern with more than a third of cruises being booked within three months of departure – the highest number since 2003.
Non-fly cruising from UK ports maintained its popularity with numbers up by 100,000 in 2011 to 753,000.
But those taking fly-cruises dropped for the first time since 2005, with the figure down to 947,000 from 969,000. The decline was driven by a 13% slump in Caribbean fly-cruises blamed mainly on the “disproportionate” level of Air passenger Duty charged on flights to the region.
The PSA predicts that half of all British passengers will start their cruise from a UK port within three years if current trends continue, up from the current level of 44%.
The Canary Islands and Madeira showed the highest rise in popularity, rising by 13% over 2010 while the Mediterranean and Northern Europe maintained their positions as the top two cruise destinations.
Value for money tops the list of reasons for choosing a particular ship, with all-inclusive drinks packages also a key factor.
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