U.K. Travellers to Cruise Industry: We Want to Cruise!

May 22, 2009

While the world is in the midst of an economic downturn, U.K. cruise passengers are still taking to the sea and in vastly increasing numbers.

That's the word from the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), the organisation that keeps tabs on the habits of U.K. cruisers, which issued its annual source book this week that examines trips taken in 2008.

Just so you know – some 11 percent more people cruised in 2008 than in the previous year. A total of 1.5 million Brits walked aboard a gangway.

The survey also tracked trends that showed that:

Close-to-home cruising – primarily via England's ports of Southampton, Dover and Harwich – grew in 2008 by a whopping 23 percent over the prior year. And four out of every ten cruises that were booked here departed from a U.K. port. Cruise lines are definitely responding to increased demand for home port trips as new ex-U.K. ships and trips will include P&O Cruises' Azura, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Eclipse, all in 2010.

In addition, Royal Caribbean's massive Independence of the Seas, which launched in the U.K. to great acclaim last year, will return to Southampton for this summer, and starting summer 2010, will offer year-round ex-U.K. cruises.

Although there are no figures for 2009, U.K. homeporting is high on the list for international cruise lines. Princess Cruises has replaced Sea Princess with the larger Grand Princess for European cruises from Southampton, NCL has both Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Jewel sailing out of Southampton and Dover, respectively, and Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Constellation and Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas will both be sailing from Harwich in 2009.

Of course, British lines including P&O Cruises, Thomson Cruises, Fred. Olsen, Voyages of Discovery and Swan Hellenic will also offer a wide variety of ex-U.K. sailings from regional ports.

The most popular cruise region, and this is no huge surprise, continues to be the Mediterranean (we suspect that it will remain so, particularly as cruise travel is a good way to escape the exchange rate pinch of the euro vs. the pound). What was more interesting is that Northern Europe's Baltic and Norway's fjords are picking up steam and were in fact more popular than the Caribbean last year.

There's pent-up demand for Nile River cruises as some 39,000 U.K. travellers headed onboard riverboats to see Egypt's ancient treasures. That's a pretty strong 36 percent jump over Nile River trips in 2007. Trips along the Nile had struggled in previous years due to safety and security concerns.

More people want more cruise. Believe it or not, cruises are getting longer. The PSA reported that the length of a cruise taken has increased from 9.7 to 10.4 nights with an 18 percent rise in the number of cruise nights booked by U.K. passengers. And here's interesting news – discounts in cruise fares, even way back in 2008 – meant that passengers were paying less despite staying onboard more. We predict that this less for more trend will only increase in 2009.

The One Constant. The average age of the U.K. cruisers, about 54 years old, being almost exactly the same as it was in 1999.

Looking ahead, PSA Director William Gibbons noted the solid prospects for continued near-term growth, with some implied caution about the longer term: 'Ten new cruises ships will be launched this year, with another 29 on order through to 2012 … Although the dramatic growth of the last few years is likely to subside in the near future, we remain confident of continued passenger growth.'

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, with reporting by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor