(12 p.m. AEST) -- Last year a record 1,281,159 Australians took an ocean cruise -- that’s more than the number of Aussies that flew to the United States, twice as many as visited the United Kingdom and three times as many as those who went to Fiji.
The past year saw the biggest ever increase in Australian cruisers – a record-breaking rise of 222,378 passengers compared to 2015, according to annual statistics released today by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia.
In technical terms, the local cruise market grew 21 per cent and achieved the equivalent of 5.3 per cent market penetration. CLIA Australasia’s Managing Director, Joel Katz explained: “That’s one in 19 Australians taking a cruise, making this the highest per capita ratio in the world.”
More than three-quarters chose from the wider range of itineraries in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific -- 30 per cent more than the previous year. South Pacific was the clear winner yet again, breaking the half-million mark for the first time, rising from 383,889 passengers in 2015 to 542,825 in 2016 -- accounting for more than 42 per cent of all Australian passengers.
International cruise decline
Interestingly, all long-haul fly-cruise destinations saw a decline (except Alaska, which rose 25 per cent). Europe and the Med fell by nearly 12 per cent and Asia by 10 per cent. World cruises grew by 83 per cent, albeit from a small base.
Short cruise “explosion”
The other strong trend was short cruises (four days or less), which grew by almost 60 per cent. Long cruises of more than 22 days rose by more than 20 per cent. But the most popular duration is 8 to 14 days, accounting for exactly half the market. Overall, 90 per cent of all Australian passengers cruised for two weeks or less.
State of origin
NSW cruisers also hit the half-million (522,922 passengers), accounting for more than 40 per cent of the Australian market. Queenslanders remained in second place (304,736 passengers), followed by a big rise in Victorians (215,817 passengers), Western Australians (103,927) and South Australians (75,237).
Average ages unchanged
The proportion of young versus older passengers hasn’t changed much, with almost one-third of Australian cruisers aged under 40, about 15 per cent aged over 70, and the rest spread fairly evenly across their 40s, 50s and 60s.
More than half of Australians book their cruise less than six months before departure; 35 per cent book between six and 12 months ahead; 29 per cent wait until the last minute (three months or less).
CLIA’s annual report shows Australia’s 21 per cent growth was well ahead of leading established markets such as the US/Canada (5.7 per cent), UK and Ireland (5.6 per cent) and Germany (11.3 per cent). It is beaten only by China and the much smaller NZ market.
“Australia’s ocean cruise passenger numbers have increased by an average of 19.4 per cent annually since 2007. In the last five years, these numbers have doubled,” Katz said. “However, future growth of Australia’s cruising sector will be hindered by a lack of berthing options in major capital cities. To achieve the 11.8 per cent annual Australian passenger growth needed to achieve the goal of 2 million passengers by 2020, there are significant challenges facing us as an industry here in Australia, particularly in Sydney. These must be urgently addressed.”
The “knock-on effect” would impact thousands of hotels, restaurants, transportation companies and food, beverage and other suppliers to the cruise industry, Katz said.
Cruising has long been Australia’s fastest growth tourism sector but some cruise lines have been forced to redeploy their ships due to a lack of berths in overcrowded Sydney. Speaking after the announcement at NSW Parliament House in Sydney, Stuart Allison, Princess Cruises' vice president Australia and New Zealand, said: “We haven’t got a hope of hitting that magic 2 million with what’s available for ships [in Sydney] today.”
Adam Armstrong, Managing Director Australia & New Zealand, Royal Caribbean, said the alternative NSW ports of Newcastle and Port Kembla are “imperfect” and Sydney was the only option, especially for the line’s high numbers of international passengers.
A copy of CLIA's 2016 Australian Ocean Passenger Cruise Industry Source Market Report can be downloaded from the CLIA Australasia website.
--By Louise Goldsbury, Australia Editor; Photos by Tim Faircloth