There's been a 42 per cent hike in the number of people taking ocean cruises in Australian waters in the past year - from 189,796 to 269,915 - according to figures released today by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). And a record 1,058,781 Australians took an ocean cruise last year, up 15 per cent on 2014.
According to the 2015 Australian Cruise Industry Source Market report, Australia is once again leading the global cruise industry in terms of market penetration (the number of cruise passengers divided by the country's population), with 4.5 per cent of the population taking a cruise.
CLIA Australasia commercial director Brett Jardine said domestic cruising continues to capture the imagination of Australians because it offers great value, and allows travellers to "dip a toe" at home first, before venturing further afield.
"It's something very different to the kind of holidays we've been used to in the past," he says. "Domestic cruises give people an opportunity to sample cruising for the first time and find out what it's all about. Once people experience it for the first time they tend to come back for longer cruises to different destinations."
The growth of Australian cruising is impressive. Ocean-cruise passenger numbers have increased on average 19.2 per cent per year since 2006, and in 2015 Australia was the fourth largest market in the world, accounting for 4.6 per cent of global cruise passengers.
Other findings from the report reveal that cruises of four days or less have grown in popularity by 25 per cent and Asian itineraries surged in popularity from 55,000 in 2014 to 95,000 in 2015, a dramatic increase of 71.5 per cent.
"Cruising really does deliver extraordinary value," says Jardine. "People can fly into a region and then sample a really diverse range of cultures within one cruise itinerary."
His predictions for the future of Australian cruising are bullish. "Many years ago we slated 2020 as [the year] we would hit a million Australians cruising, and we achieved that result six years early," he says. "Now, 2020 is the next benchmark, and we think we can hit two million cruise passengers by then."