Cruise ships are expected to sail the world’s oceans with 23 million passengers this year, a 4 percent increase from 2014, according to an industry association.
The figures, released Monday by the Cruise Lines International Association, apply only to oceangoing vessels that are members of the global organization. The trade group estimates that 22.1 million people took ocean cruises in 2014, which was a 3.7 percent increase from 2013.
“From new ports around the globe to the investment by CLIA’s member cruise lines in new, innovative ships, it’s an exciting time for the cruise industry and cruise passengers,” Adam Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and the association’s new chairman, said in a statement. “This year will prove to be another step forward for the entire industry as our members continue to strive to make cruising the best overall vacation experience.”
If the forecast bears out, this year will see the largest annual growth in global passengers since 2011. In 2012 and 2013 — years plagued by the fatal shipwreck of the Costa Concordia and a disabling fire aboard the Carnival Triumph – passenger numbers increased by about 2 percent a year.
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At a press conference Monday in New York announcing the forecast, the troubles of past years were well in the rearview mirror. Dori Saltzman, news editor of the website CruiseCritic.com, said talk was focused on the growing number of passengers and high satisfaction rates.
“There was definitely a feeling of optimism,” Saltzman said. “Information from the travel agents, from the executives, everybody seems to feel the industry is moving in the right direction. I didn’t get any sense of pessimism whatsoever.”
Still unclear is how much of this year’s growth will take place in U.S. ports, especially as destinations such as Asia and the Mediterranean continue to gain popularity.
In 2013, the number of passengers boarding ships in the United States actually dropped 1.3 percent compared to the previous year, which CLIA attributed to growth in other markets. More recent data on U.S. embarkations is not yet available.
“Additional 2014 research is underway and we’ll have more port-level information through our economic impact study coming out around May,” said Alison Powers, CLIA’s director of market research.
The Caribbean will remain the top cruise destination, with 35.5 percent of capacity deployed there. Last year, the Caribbean accounted for 37.3 percent of global itineraries, but with fierce competition in the region keeping prices low, many cruise lines have turned to higher-yielding itineraries around the world.
About 19.5 percent of cruise capacity will be deployed in the Mediterranean this year, compared to 18.9 percent last year. While 4.4 percent of capacity was in Asia in 2014, this year that figure increases to 6 percent.
Of 22 new ships being launched by member lines this year, only six will be oceangoing — and of those, just two are from North American cruise operators. The 4,180-passenger Anthem of the Seas will start out in Southampton in April and sail Mediterranean itineraries until late October, when it moves to the New York area. Norwegian Cruise Line will launch the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape in Miami in November.
CLIA also released the results of a market profile survey Monday, the first it has released since 2011. The survey is based on data collected from 1,600 residents of the United States and Canada who are over the age of 25 with an annual household income of more than $40,000 — the “target cruise traveler.”
According to the survey, the average cruise traveler is 49 years old with a household income of $114,000. The majority of passengers have a college education, a job and a spouse. On average, according to the survey, cruisers spent $2,200 per person excluding airfare. That breaks down to an average cruise fare of $1,635 and $565 spent on shore excursions and onboard purchases.
The majority of cruisers — 62 percent — had taken several vacations at sea. Of special interest to cruise lines, which are constantly seeking newcomers: The survey showed that 38 percent of cruise passengers were new.