Australians are leading the world as cruise-goers, with 1.34 million people – or 1 in 18 Australians - choosing to take a cruise in the past year, according to the latest figures on ocean cruising released by industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Joel Katz, CLIA's Australasia Managing Director, attributes the popularity of cruising to Australians' love of the sea.
"Cruising is becoming a core part of the holiday options for Australian travellers," he says. "We're seeing growth on par with the largest cruise market in the world – the United States – and we've got the highest market penetration in the world, which is just astounding for such a small country."
Australians were the most likely per capita of any nationality to have experienced a cruise. Of the 26.7 million passengers worldwide who took to the seas last year, Australians were the fourth largest group. Passenger numbers continue to grow – a trend that's been maintained since 2008 – with an additional 56,000 added to Australia's total number of cruisers. And with more than 100 new ships due to be launched globally in the next 10 years, the options for travellers continue to multiply.
However, critical infrastructure gaps are an obstacle to further growth in Australia, according to the report.
Sydney, in particular, faces a squeeze on the number of large ships able to berth there, especially during the peak cruising period between October and April.
"The demand is there," Katz says. "If we want to future-proof cruise tourism, we need to address the supply."
There are promising signs of change on the way, however. Katz points to the federal budget allocation this year to explore extra berthing capacity at Sydney ports, as well as the development of ports elsewhere, including Brisbane, Cairns, Newcastle and Western Australia.
So where are we spending our holidays at sea? The majority of the 1.34 million Australian passengers who set sail in 2017 opted for domestic cruises or headed to the South Pacific. The most popular fly-cruise itineraries included Asia and the Mediterranean. Shorter trips are becoming more popular; cruise holidays of seven days or less are showing the strongest growth. The average cruise length was 9.1 days.
Smaller ships continue to attract travellers, as do river cruises, an area that Katz says is experiencing significant growth. Elsewhere, cruise holidays are proving popular with Chinese customers, whose numbers grew 89 per cent in 2016, while the United States was the most popular destination worldwide for cruise-goers.