Story of the Fortnight: Full steam ahead

Story of the Fortnight: Full steam ahead
By admin

The cruise industry isn't just chugging along, it's firing on all cylinders. Following strong year-on-year growth, global passenger numbers are expected to surge a further two million this year, earning cruise the title as the fastest growing sector of the travel industry. But in a boon for Australia, new figures show this country is riding the crest of the wave.

The latest Cruise Industry Report, compiled by the International Cruise Council Australasia (ICCA), shows a record 623,294 Australians took to the seas in 2011, marking a 34% increase on 2010 numbers. Raising the bar yet again for cruising from our shores, the figures have the industry sitting in the box seat, with growth surpassing that of the coach, rail and aviation sectors. But most notably, the statistics also demonstrate that the Australian market is at the forefront of the global industry, outshining all major international markets, including the US and the UK.

The findings

Disclosing a number of trends, the figures confirmed that travel to the South Pacific remains strong, attracting 37% of Australian passengers. Cruising in Australian waters came in second with 19% of bookings, followed by New Zealand which attracted 14% of all Australian passengers. Travel across the ditch saw the greatest growth, with the number of Australians cruising to New Zealand increasing a staggering 80% on the previous year's figures. River cruising also enjoyed robust growth, reporting a 22% increase on the 2010 results.

The latest figures show that passenger numbers have almost tripled over the past five years with annual growth averaging 23%. It's also the highest growth rate recorded by any major cruise market in 2011, easily topping the 14% spikes in Germany and France and the 4% rise in the UK. To put it into perspective, the numbers confirm that 2.7% of the Australian population embraced cruising in 2011, bringing Australia's share of the world cruise market to around 3.5%.

Motivation for all things marine

Delivering the results at a briefing in Sydney last month, ICCA chairman Gavin Smith explained that the value of cruising was driving the trend, with the strong domestic economy giving Australians more bang for their buck. But dollars aside, he said improvements to the quality and variety of product were also a major contributing factor that was driving more Australians to the open waters. "We are anchored in a time where brand after brand is coming to Australia, bringing a diversity of new product. That product drives innovation, which broadens cruise to consumer groups and brings repeat bookings," he said.

Whether it's the value of the dollar or shiny new ships driving the trend, Smith remains confident it will continue in the coming years as bigger, better vessels make their way to our shores. And with a 15% increase in ship capacity on the cards in 2012, he said it was likely next year would again deliver double digit growth and edge the industry closer to its goal of one million passengers by 2020.

The white wash

But as the sector rides the swell, concerns for infrastructure improvements have re-emerged ahead of the optimistic passenger forecast. With hopes of sharing Sydney's Garden Island to ease port congestion recently dashed, Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry warned that failure to address port infrastructure in Sydney Harbour remained the "greatest threat" to further cruise industry growth in the country.

Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive John Lee echoed Sherry's concerns, claiming that inadequate infrastructure at Sydney and Brisbane remained a "cloud on the horizon" for the cruise industry. "Many major ports are facing constraints and unless action is taken, the potential economic benefits for Australia will not be realised," he said.

Smith touched on the issue after delivering the ICCA results, noting that the industry was still working with the government to find a solution. In the meantime, he was happy to bask in the glory of the cruise sector, labelling it the "shining star" of the tourism industry.

"We will continue to look for alternatives… but let us first commend the Australian industry for this great news," he concluded.

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