In 2008, the total number of UK cruise passengers reached a record 1.48 million, an 11% increase over 2007. Total sales from the UK cruise sector in 2009 are expected to reach almost $4 billion. The most popular destinations for UK cruise passengers are the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and the Atlantic Islands.
The cruise market has been the most resilient segment of the overall UK travel market, posting increases in both the number of cruise passengers and in terms of sales revenues. Consistent year-on-year growth over the past seven years reflects the stability and strength of the UK cruise market which, coupled with a healthy outlook over the next few years, provides opportunities for U.S. cruise lines looking to either enter the UK or expand their market presence.
The UK cruise market consists of two distinct segments: ex-UK cruises and Fly-cruises. Ex-UK cruises are those in which the cruise either departs, or departs and returns to a UK port. Fly-cruises are those in which passengers fly outside the UK to the port of departure. The number of Ex-UK cruises orginating in the UK grew by nearly 23% in 2008, outperforming Fly-cruises which grew by 4% last year.
U.S. cruise lines considering entry into the UK market should note some current trends, notably, the impact of customer satisfaction as a catalyst to repeat bookings. Almost 90% of UK cruise passengers in 2008 had taken a cruise the previous year. Also, the average age of UK cruise passengers has dropped to 54 years, down from 60 and over. Increased affordability of cruises targeting both families as well as younger couples has led to significant competition within the cruise market. These new demographic groups are vital to the growth of the market and cruise lines, many of which offer package trips that emphasize the more informal aspect of cruising. Two other trends are relevant for U.S. companies. First, the increase in average cruise duration (nights) has led to an increase in revenue. Second, the increase in popularity of ex-UK cruises highlights a potential gap in the supply side of the market due to a shortterm lack of vessels to meet demand. Whereas the fly-cruise markets in the Mediterranean and Caribbean are sophisticated and highly competitive, the fast growing ex-UK cruise market shows an opportunity for expansion and development, reflecting the growth in demand for UK port departures.
The UK cruise market has grown continually over the past seven years, reaching 1,477,000 passengers in 2008.
Annual sales have also grown since 2003, averaging approximately 16% per year . Although analysts expect this growth rate to continue into the foreseeable, the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) and the European Cruise Council (ECC) acknowledge that growth will show signs of slowing as the market reaches maturity.
Cruise demand is linked to the four major regions that are most popular with UK passengers and all regions are accessible through either ex-UK cruises or Fly-cruises. The most popular destination for ex-UK cruises is the Mediterranean, closely followed by Western Europe and Norway. The fastest growing demand for ex-UK cruise routes are those to the U.S., Greenland or Canada, although these only account for a small portion of the total number of ex-UK cruises, The Mediterranean and Black Seas dominate the Fly-cruise market with passengers sailing from Italian, Spanish, Greek or Dutch ports. The second largest Fly-cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda; however this is one of several Fly-cruise destinations seeing a decline in passenger numbers.