The number of ocean cruise passengers from Britain grew to a record 1.9 million in 2016, and the worldwide figure now exceeds 25 million.
Although Germany still leads the European league table with more than two million passengers, the UK has a higher percentage of its population taking holidays at sea, at 27 people per thousand.
The statistics, compiled by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) were released in the week of the Seatrade Cruise Global convention in Fort Lauderdale.
The Mediterranean remains the most popular region for British cruisers, attracting 458,000 passengers in 2016, with Western Europe itineraries departing from UK ports (272,000) now firmly established at number two.
However, the overall numbers travelling to the Med from the rest of the world are down; many Americans were deterred from travelling to Europe last year because of a number of terrorist incidents. The number of cruises and passengers in the Far East has seen a corresponding increase, and some cruise lines are forecasting that the number of Chinese passengers could exceed those from the US within 10 years.
Ultra-luxury cruising was a big success story in 2016 with a near nine per cent rise in sales ensuring that the total surpassed the 2012 peak of 28,450 and fell only just short of 29,000.
The number of passengers starting their cruise holiday at home grew strongly in 2016 with a nine per cent rise to 912,000. Fly-cruises were up by 2.8 per cent.
Princess Cruises believe their ITV documentary series The Cruise has contributed to a 20 per cent increase in their own UK passenger numbers, and that other lines have also benefitted from the exposure.
Andy Harmer of CLIA UK & Ireland said: “The past year was an impressive one for the UK and Ireland cruise industry. The increase in passenger figures is a testament to the industry’s resilience to economic and political change and further demonstrates the value that a cruise holiday offers.
“Cruise lines are continuing to invest in new ships and new on-board and ashore experiences. Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the incredible experiences on offer, and this all points to continued growth for the UK and Irish cruise market in the year ahead.”
The CLIA figures also show that river cruising is growing even faster in popularity – up 11 per cent to almost 170,000 passengers a year.
Notably, a large number of UK passengers choosing to take a river cruise have previously experienced an ocean cruise and are attracted by the different experiences and inclusive excursions available on a river cruise – an increase from 59 per cent to 79 per cent year on year.
Europe remains the most popular region accounting for 87 per cent of river cruises taken by UK passengers. While the trend over the last five years has been for European rivers to increase market share, passengers to destinations outside of Europe increased by 15 per cent in 2016 to 22,000 passengers due to growth in Asia.
Harmer added: “We have seen significant investment by companies in new, innovative ships with greater amenities on board and a wide variety of excursions included in the package. This coupled with an ever-increasing choice and diversity of itineraries in Europe and further afield, has led to more UK passengers opting for a river cruise holiday.”
THE 55 PORTS making up Cruise Britain are also claiming a record year, with 1,214,000 passenger day calls, an increase of 19 per cent over 2015 and a three-fold increase in 10 years.
Ships from 52 different cruise lines visited UK ports as far apart as Falmouth in Cornwall to Kirkwall, Orkney.