The number of people boarding cruise ships at U.S. ports dropped last year for the first time since the recession, though passenger counts increased globally and in Florida.
Those figures are included in a new report on the economic impact of the North American cruise industry released Monday by the Cruise Lines International Association.
Last year, 9.96 million people embarked on cruises from U.S. ports, a 1.3 percent dip compared to 2012. The report from Business Research and Economic Advisors, commissioned by CLIA, attributes the decline to increasingly far-flung itineraries in Europe, Australia and Asia as well as a contracting market in Mexico.
“North America remains the major source market for passengers, accounting for 55 percent of all passengers in 2013, and we expect the market here to remain strong,” said Mike McGarry, the trade group’s senior vice president for public affairs, in an emailed statement. “The slight change in U.S. passenger embarkations was due to a number of factors, including the deployment of ships to meet growing demand in emerging markets and other areas.”
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Andrew Moody, the research and advisory firm’s principal and author of the study, said he did not believe that last year’s spate of negative coverage in the wake of the Carnival Triumph fire played into the decrease.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of publicity one way or another,” he said, pointing out that even in a “challenging marketing environment,” cruise lines fill their ships. “Certain events can have a very short-term impact, but I think overall, not really.”
Globally, the number of passengers taking cruises on North American lines increased nearly 4 percent to 17.6 million. According to the study, cruise lines and their passengers and crew spent $20.1 billion on goods and services in the United States, an increase of 2.4 percent from the previous year.
“I think in general, tourism is doing well and the cruise industry is maintaining — actually increasing — its share of that global tourism industry,” Moody said.
Florida remains a cruise industry powerhouse, with the number of embarking passengers increasing 1.3 percent to 6.15 million in 2013. Miami led the growth with more than 2 million passengers boarding ships, a 6.8 percent increase; Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale saw a 2.7 percent increase to more than 1.8 million embarking passengers.
The report says passengers, crew and cruise lines spent $7.33 billion in Florida, up 4.7 percent. As home to the world’s three largest cruise ship companies, the state accounted for more than half of U.S.-based cruise line workers.
Moody said he doesn’t see a threat to Florida’s domination, with its proximity to the Caribbean — the largest destination for the North American cruise industry — and new ships on tap that will sail from local ports.
“The prospects are that this growth is going to continue in Florida,” he said.