River cruises on ships like AmaWaterways' AmaDolce (pictured) are also becoming more popular (Image: AmaWaterways)
A record 1.9 million tourists from the UK and Ireland took an ocean cruise in 2016, according to figures from IRN Research and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Mediterranean fly-cruises remain the number one choice and were chosen by 458,000 passengers in 2016. Western Europe itineraries from UK ports were the second most popular type of cruise and were taken by 272,000 travellers. Sales for ultra-luxury cruises also rose by nearly 9% to almost 29,000, surpassing 2012 in which a record 28,450.
UK cruise departures accounted for 48% of the market share in 2016. The 9% rise in the number of British passengers (912,000) starting their voyage from a UK port has been attributed to the convenience of travelling to the port, the wide range of ships now sailing from the country, and value for money.
“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,” said Andy Harmer, senior vice president of membership and director at CLIA UK & Ireland. “Cruise lines are continuing to invest in new ships and new onboard 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.”
River cruising is also becoming more popular with 11% more UK passengers (166,900) taking this type of holiday last year.
Europe remains the most popular region, accounting for 87% of river cruises taken by UK passengers. While the trend over the past five years has been for European rivers to grow market share, passengers to destinations outside of Europe increased by 15% in 2016 to 22,000 passengers due to growth in Asia.
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% to 79% year on year.
“We have seen significant investment by companies in new, innovative ships with greater amenities onboard and a wide variety of excursions included in the package,” said Harmer. “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.”