The number of global ocean cruise passengers rose by almost two million or 10% last year to top the 20 million figure for the first time.
The numbers increased from 18.7 million to 20.6 million between 2010 and 2011. The main markets were North America (11.5 million) and Europe (6.2 million).
The UK surpassed 1.7 million passengers last year, representing annual growth of 5%, while total European cruise numbers were up by 9% on the 5.56 million who took a cruise in 2010.
Countries including the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and France have seen cruise passengers increase by an average of 7% to 15% in the past five years.
Australia is seeing rapid growth, with passenger numbers increasing by 30% in the past year to exceed more than 500,000 for the first time.
The International Cruise Council Australasia has predicted that there will be one million Australians taking a cruise by 2020.
The figures come from industry associations including the Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council, Passenger Shipping Association, International Cruise Council Australasia and industry analysts G P Wild (International) Limited.
It still remains to be seen what impact January’s Costa Concordia disaster and the uncertain economic climate will have on this year’s figures.
But Clia president and chief executive Christine Duffy welcomed the 2011 figures, saying: “This is the first time that European figures have passed six million and the first time Australian cruise passengers have topped half a million.
“The latest statistics clearly show that the cruise industry has proved resilient during difficult economic conditions and these results are a testament to the industry’s ongoing innovation and investment.
“As we continually improve operations, and add new and exciting innovations and itineraries, we’re confident our sector has huge potential for continued growth on a global basis.”
PSA director Bill Gibbons said: “ British ocean cruise passengers exceeded 1.7 million for the first time in 2011 and are currently the second largest source of cruise passengers in the world.
“We’re looking forward to that growth continuing as new ships come on stream to satisfy demand.”
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