Florida remains the U.S. leader in cruise passengers and spending, according to a study released Thursday by an industry association.
In 2011, ports throughout the state hosted 5.9 million embarking passengers, or 60 percent of the entire countrys share an increase of 2.4 percent over 2010. Direct cruise-related spending hit $6.7 billion more than a third of the $19 billion generated by the industry in the United States.
The numbers are included in an economic impact study commissioned by the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group that represents cruise operators and travel agents. The study looked only at CLIAs 26 member lines, although all the major companies are represented in that group.
We already know the positives about the industry in terms of the value it provides to vacationers and the very innovative cruises and itineraries and the affordable vacation option it offers for a lot of different people, said Mike McGarry, CLIAs senior vice president of public affairs. Its important to show that the industry as a business is also a positive contributor to the United States. Economically, we play an important role.
Miami again led the nation, with more than 2 million passengers boarding cruises at PortMiami, though that figure dropped by 7.5 percent. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale came in second with nearly 1.8 million, a 2 percent increase, and Port Canaveral was No. 3 with almost 1.5 million embarking passengers, a jump of 15 percent.
The worlds largest cruise ship companies including Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line are headquartered in Miami-Dade.
Bill Johnson, PortMiamis director, said the numbers were down slightly due to the cyclical nature of the business: Cruise lines regularly move ships around to various destinations. He said the summer season in Europe has grown a little longer, so winter cruises start sailing from Miami later.
There are cycles, he said. Youre never going to hit the same mark every single year.
Ports count passengers who get on and off ships, so PortMiami says it had more than 4 million passengers in 2011. Johnson said that number is set to remain stable in 2012 but grow to 4.5 million annually by 2014.
Worldwide, more people took cruise vacations than ever before last year: 16.3 million, a 10 percent increase year-over-year. The number of U.S. citizens who cruised worldwide was 10.4 million, another record. About 9.8 million people embarked on cruises from U.S. ports, the most ever.
McGarry said that the percentage of Americans who have gone on a cruise is still low.
Theres a huge potential for growth in this industry, he said.
Despite the record passenger counts, direct spending is still below the $19.1 billion peak, reached in 2008 before the recession.
Andrew J. Moody, president of Business Research & Economic Advisors, which conducted the study, said spending should surpass that number in 2012.
While Moody said the report did not predict passenger numbers for 2012, he said he did not expect to see a major impact from the deadly January 13 accident involving the Costa Concordia in Italy, especially on the U.S. market.