Luxury and Longer Cruises Keep U.K. Cruise Market Buoyant

May 18, 2010
British cruisers are holidaying at sea more often, for longer, and have developed quite a taste for luxury, according to figures released last night by the UK's Passenger Shipping Association (PSA).

The PSA's Cruise Review, published each year in May, is a barometer of how well Britain's €2.3 billion cruise industry is performing. The conclusion for 2009: not bad at all, given the state of the country's economy. One in 10 package holidays booked in Britain is now a cruise, compared to one in nearly 30 in 1997 -- and some 1,533,000 Brits took a cruise in 2009, 3.8 percent more than in 2008.

This annual increase is small compared to previous years, when it topped 10 percent, but it's nonetheless impressive at a time when the holiday market is struggling.

Here, we break down more of the facts and figures -- which offer a glimpse into how you cruise:

What sustains cruising is the repeat factor. People try a cruise, get hooked and cruise again. More than 60 percent of British cruisers took more than one cruise in 2009, compared to 50 percent in 2008. A dedicated four percent of all cruisers surveyed now books more than six cruises per year.

We're also cruising for longer; the average length of cruise is now 11 days, compared to ten a year ago. This is partly down to the growing number of cruises from British ports, which are invariably longer than fly-cruises and account for nearly 40 percent of the market.

Meanwhile, families are trying cruises for the first-time, partly because of the flexibility they offer, but also because of the value. Last year offered up incredible deals, and the base fare includes a lot: accommodations, meals, most onboard activities and kids' programs.

One of the biggest surprises in the report was Med fatigue. Cruises taken in the Mediterranean were down 2 percent, while Northern Europe, on the other hand, leapt in popularity by a whopping 20 percent in 2009. One explanation: the Mediterranean has simply become too crowded.

Recession? What recession? Another shocker was the expensive tastes of the British public. Combined bookings on luxury lines Crystal Cruises, Ponant Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line have rocketed by 51 percent over last year.

Luxury cruise lines are attracting new cruisers as a result of making their cruises more contemporary. There's great food and service still, but on newer, more spacious ships with more offerings onboard and ashore. Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn, for example, have water sports platforms on the back of the ship, yet are still small enough to get into out-of-the-way ports.

But here's the bad news, at least for the cruise lines: While more Brits are cruising, they're paying a lot less for the privilege. As cruise passengers, we've never had it so good in terms of value for money -- the average cruise price is down 6 percent.

But can it last? When you factor in the longer length of today's voyages, the real drop is 11 percent, something cruise lines are already trying to reverse. Carnival Cruise Lines, for one, announced in February that it was putting its prices up and NCL was quick to follow in March.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

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