(10:15 a.m. EDT) -- Australia has emerged as the fastest growing cruise market in the world, according to annual cruise passenger figures that showed a growth of more than 20 percent in 2013 compared to the year before.
Compiled by CLIA Australasia and released today in Sydney, the 2013 statistics revealed that a record 833,348 Australians took an ocean or river cruise last calendar year, compared with 694,062 passengers in 2012.
This 20.1% growth is more than double the rate of other major cruise markets around the world; CLIA figures show that cruise passenger numbers in both Germany and France grew by 9 percent in 2013 (over 2012), while North America experienced a 3 percent increase and United Kingdom/Ireland had a 1 percent increase.
This record result for 2013 has lead industry experts to predict Australia is on target to achieve the 1 million passenger mark by 2016, as opposed to its former prediction that the milestone wouldn't be reached until 2020.
Australian passenger numbers have risen by an average of 20 percent per year since 2003 when the first passenger numbers were compiled by the International Cruise Council of Australasia (ICCA), the fore-runner to CLIA Australasia. In 2003 the number was just 153,781 passengers.
Launching the figures on board P&O Cruises Australia's ship Pacific Jewel, CLIA Australasia chairman Gavin Smith, who is also regional vice-president Asia Pacific for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, said Australia also ranked number one in the world for cruise penetration -- the number of people cruising compared with the population. Australia, with a population of around 23 million, had a penetration rate of 3.6 percent, as against 3.3 percent for the “mature” North American market, and 25.5 percent for Germany.
He said the record figure was the result of both a buildup of capacity with more home-ported and seasonally based cruise ships in Australia offering Pacific/New Zealand and Australian coastal cruising, and more Australians traveling on Mediterranean ocean and European river cruises. The relatively strong Australian dollar and ‘soft economies' in Southern Europe, which meant keen cruise pricing, had driven the huge growth in Mediterranean cruises.
All cruise destinations, from the ‘local' New Zealand and South Pacific cruises to the more far-afield Europe and Caribbean cruises, had experience huge growth among Australians, with European ocean cruises eclipsing them all with a 34.0 percent increase in passengers from Down Under as compared to last year. For the study, European cruises comprise both Mediterranean and Northern Europe itineraries, however, more Australians take Mediterranean cruises (6.9 percent of total passengers), as against 2.4 of Australians who cruised in Baltic and Scandinavian waters.
CLIA Australasia general manager Brett Jardine said the South Pacific remained the most popular destination accounting for 330,670 passengers, or 39.7 percent of all cruisers.
Australian coastal cruises (and circumnavigations) accounted for 148,527 (17.8 percent), followed by New Zealand (98,914 passengers; 11.9 percent) and Europe (77,308 passengers; 9.3 percent).
River cruising, which has its own category, continued to be a success story with 49,122 passengers taking a cruise (both on European and Asian waters) and accounting for 5.9 percent of the market.
In terms of growth, as mentioned, Europe lead the way with an increase of 34 percent of 2012, followed by the South Pacific (30.9 percent), Asia (27.8 percent) and river cruising (25.1 percent).
Other destinations tracked in the survey were “Other Americas' (Canada/New England, Mexico/Bermuda/West Coast) with 20,612 passengers, Caribbean (19,054 passengers); Alaska (24,121), world voyages (13,615) and “Other” (7023) the latter including Antarctica and other expedition and remote areas.
The annual survey also revealed that cruises from 8 to 14 days were the most popular, followed by 5 to 7 days. It's no surprise that the majority of passengers (or 342,507) came from the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, which is the center of Australia's cruise industry and the port center where most local ships are based. Queensland with 195,003 passengers was the second-largest source market (P&O bases one ship there permanently), followed by Victoria with 141,669 passengers and Western Australia with 67,501.
As to ages, almost half the passengers in 2013 were under 50 years, while 27.5 percent were under 40. Most passengers, or 43.1 percent, booked their cruise between six and 12 months before departure.
--By Caroline Gladstone, Cruise Critic contributor