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CLIA, MMGY, Travelzoo present research on UK & Ireland cruising

CLIA, MMGY and Travelzoo shared new insights on UK and Ireland travel trends with cruise lines, the travel trade and journalists in London this morning.

CLIA, MMGY and Travelzoo findings on what first-time US cruisers are seeking were unveiled last week as Seatrade Cruise Global was underway.

No big surprises 

The breakfast briefing held at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel saw Andy Harmer, MD, Cruise Lines International Association United Kingdom & Ireland reveal holidaymakers from the UK and Ireland took 2.3m cruise holidays last year, surpassing the highest previous annual number. The 2.3m total is up from 1.7m in 2022.

The Mediterranean remains the number one destination for cruise travellers from the UK and Ireland. Of the top three destinations in 2023, 35% of passengers travelled to the Mediterranean, 29% to Northern Europe and 12% to the Caribbean. The average cruise length increased to 10.1 days, up from 9.8 the previous year.

Meanwhile, exploration destinations have seen a 53% increase in passenger numbers year-on-year.

Some 65% of passengers had a pre-cruise stay in their departure destination, while 52% stayed on after their sailing.

Age range

When it comes to the average age of UK and Ireland cruisers, the figure is decreasing, to 55.1 in 2023, down from 56.1 in 2022.

Some 28% of cruisers are part of a wider multigenerational party, comprising three or more age groups.

‘Cruise continues to lead the way in travel and we can clearly see that from these encouraging latest figures,’ Harmer explained. ‘A holiday at sea offers something to suit all tastes and budgets, both on and off the ship, which makes for an ideal combination. With so many holidaymakers returning to the water, and many more eager to dip their toe for the first time, these figures reflect all the advantages a sea escape has to offer.’

Over 300 ships are set to sail this year, the first time the global CLIA member fleet has surpassed this number. Overall capacity will increase by 3.6% as a result.

Sentiment towards cruising

In terms of sentiment, perception and intent, a corresponding survey of 4,500 international holidaymakers showed that 82% of cruise passengers say they intend to take a holiday at sea again – a 3% increase from 2019. 71% of those who have never cruised before would consider doing so.

Asked by Seatrade Cruise whether there were any surprises in the CLIA data, Harmer responded, ‘I don't think there are any large surprises, but it was good to see some of the things that we thought were happening in the cruise industry actually happening and being reflected in the data.'

He added, ‘I was pleased to see multigenerational travel continue to be "a thing" in 2023. I think that's a big trend that we've noticed… for a couple of years. And that seems to be continuing. [And] It’s clear that younger people have an active interest in taking a cruise – that's probably a shift from 10 years ago. But it's been a slow build up, probably. I think there's lots of cruise lines in the room who will tell you that their customers are changing, that their age and their demands are changing…’

Sustainability ‘top of mind’

Cees Bosselaar, MD, MMGY Travel Intelligence Europe also presented a snapshot of the findings encompassed in a new MMGY whitepaper. He said ‘The allure and the immersive experiences of destinations are top of mind of cruise prospects and can sway prospects to bookers.’ He continued, ‘New cruise prospects increasingly consider the importance of sustainability in their travel planning, but many are not aware what conscious or responsible travel entails for cruises.’

According to Bosselaar, first time cruisers view voyages as a luxury or once-in-a-lifetime experience, underestimating its value for fun and enriching family vacations.

Meanwhile, perception on value for money has significantly improved, according to Bosselaar. ‘Costs, naturally, remains a barrier, but special pricing, promotions, and packaging are key strategies for converting potential cruisers into bookers.

As for those who have never cruised, 'there is a large segment of young adults that show a surprisingly strong interest in a first-time cruise,' he added.

Travelzoo’s plan

Travelzoo GM UK James Clarke followed these remarks with details of the company’s three-point plan, involving myth busting, editorialising cruising to ‘show the story of conscious cruise travel,’ and encouraging membership of the Travelzoo Club. The latter will operate a Travelzoo exclusive cruise on the Danube in collaboration with Emerald Cruises and Imagine Cruising on December 14.

Travelzoo has a membership of 30m. 83% of these, said Clarke, are in a ‘cruise funnel,’ being open to cruising in the future. 11% are undecided on whether they would take a cruise while 6% are not interested in cruising.

‘There’s a ship for every palette,’ he remarked, 'this needs to be clearly and effectively communicated.’