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News Article

Record growth for UK cruise market

River cruising the fastest growing sector

The UK cruise market has seen another year of record growth with an 11.2% rise in river cruise and 6.7% increase in ocean. Ocean cruise passenger numbers hit a record 1.9 million in 2016 while river cruise passengers grew to 166,900. Ocean passenger growth slowed compared to the 11% rise seen in 2015, but looking at cruising as a whole the UK outpaces overall European cruise market growth which in 2016 achieved 3%.

The figures were released on March 14 in Clia’s annual cruise review. The document says that if the same growth is achieved in 2017, UK passenger numbers will top the 2 million mark for the first time. Cruising’s share of the overall tourism market remains unchanged at just over 4% while the number of package holidaymakers choosing a cruise stays at about one in nine. But these shares are still comfortably more than double what they were in 2001.

Ex-UK passengers grew strongly in 2016 with British cruise departures now accounting for 48% of the market and a 9% rise in the number of passengers departing from the UK. The Mediterranean remains the number one choice for flycruise (458,000 passengers in 2016). Western Europe itineraries from UK ports are now firmly established at number two with 272,000 passengers, over taking ex-UK cruises to both Norway (129,000), the Mediterranean (218,000) and Caribbean flycruises (229,000).

The average length of cruise taken by UK passengers, however, dipped below 10 days for the first time in nine years in 2016. Durations were shorter for both summer and winter cruises primarily as a result of more shorter cruises being scheduled from UK ports. But despite the economic uncertainties of the Brexit vote, there was no sign of reduced spending by higher income customers, as a record number of passengers opted to cruise with one of the Ultra-Luxury brands. An 8.5% rise in sales ensured that the total beat the 2012 peak of 28,450 and fell just short of 29,000.

As river cruise passengers grew, 87% of sailings by UK passengers were taken in Europe, with Nile cruising continuing to decline due to geopolitical issues and security concerns. The Rhine/Moselle remains number one with numbers up by 50% since 2012 but is now very closely followed by the Danube which has nearly trebled numbers over the same period.

Notably, a large number of UK river passengers had experienced an ocean cruise before sailing on river cruise with a 79% year-on-year increase for those who were attracted by the different experiences and inclusive excursions available on a river cruise.

Senior CLIA vice president for membership and director for UK and Ireland, Andy Harmer commended the industry’s efforts to increase passenger awareness of cruise holidays during global economic and political uncertainty.

Harmer said: “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 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.”

Globally, there remains substantial potential for the future with the industry currently committing more than $50bn to 70-plus new ships to be delivered over the next 10 years – with the probability that those 70 will turn into more than 100 by 2026.

While much of the new capacity will be directed to China, which remains on course to become the largest global source market for cruising over the next 10-15 years, all the major cruise companies have stressed that they are still committed to their major established markets in North America, the UK and Europe, and Australia.

The full report can be downloaded from the website. Leisure Tourism subscribers interested in the cruise industry can now access the second edition of our popular book on Cruise ship tourism. A database search using the index term de:cruising finds 750 records, including book chapters, full text papers and abstracts.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 15 March 2017
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism