INTERNATIONAL. Cruise travel numbers hit 28.5 million in 2018, a rise of 6.7% year-on-year, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Travel growth in the cruise industry slightly outpaced that of global tourism (up 6%) in the year. Last year’s cruise growth was also better than that of 2017. The cruise sector now represents 2% of the overall global travel industry.

The Americas led cruise passenger growth in 2018 but there was significantly weaker growth in Asia Pacific compared to 2017. [Click image to enlarge.]

The CLIA research showed that North American travellers in particular helped buoy the cruise business. The market soared by 9.4% to 14.2 million passengers, accounting for half of all global cruise passengers in 2018.

In contrast, the Asia Pacific market – which has been cited as a future driver for the cruise market and for onboard sales – saw growth slip to 3.9% from the heady 20.5% seen in 2017 for the Asia region, and 4.9% seen for Australia/Pacific.

A direct Asia Pacific comparison is not possible as CLIA has split global regions slightly differently in 2018 from 2017. For Asia (including China) the data show a 5% increase totalling what CLIA called “a still impressive” 4.2 million.

Kelly Craighead: “Cruising makes international travel accessible worldwide.”

Embracing cruise travel more than ever before”

On the 2018 figures overall, CLIA President and CEO Kelly Craighead said: “It is not surprising that cruise travel is on par with overall international tourism growth. Cruising makes international travel accessible worldwide… and they are embracing cruise travel more than ever before.”

She also noted a renewed interest in cruises to the Mediterranean, a “significant increase in adventure cruising” and the preference for shorter cruises with seven-day itineraries up 9% and three-day-and-under cruises up 10% in 2018.

All the global regions saw growth. Europe was up 3.3% to 7.2 million passengers, with Mediterranean cruises “growing substantially” in popularity last year said CLIA. The Mediterranean alone accounted for 4 million of the 7.2 million, with more than 700,000 coming from North America, up 29% from the previous year.

In another cruise hotspot – the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda – there was continued growth, up 6% to 11.3 million passengers in 2018. Alaskan cruising also saw substantial gains, up 13 percent from 2017, when year-on-year growth was even higher at 17%.