Cruise lines carried 20.3 million passengers last year and expect the numbers to rise in 2013 as more companies focus resources on luring Asian clients, industry experts said on Wednesday.
A year after the Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Italy with the loss of 32 lives, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents cruise lines around the globe, said it expects to reach 20.97 million passengers this year.
"The industry is well positioned to continue with this trajectory," Christine Duffy, CLIA's president and CEO, told a news conference, adding that new policies have been introduced following a review after the accident.
The Caribbean, Mediterranean and Europe remain the top cruise destinations, with Americans and Canadians making up the bulk of passengers, but the industry is rapidly going global with Australia and Asia the big growth area.
"We are very bullish on China and Asia as a whole," said Jim Berra, chief marketing officer of Carnival Cruise Lines and CLIA's marketing chair.
He added that cruise lines are investing in the region with more home ports and ports of call, and sending ships into the region to meet the growing market.
"By 2020 the Chinese market is projected to be a $7 trillion consumer economy and will have created the largest middle class that ever existed on Earth," he said.
Cruise lines, as a result, will be adding itineraries to Japan, China and Australia, South Korea and Vietnam.
"Some of our newer, bigger ships are heading to these markets because the demand is there," Berra added.
Along with Asian destinations, cruise lines are adding trips to exotic locales such as Morocco, Antarctica, Iceland and the Galapagos Islands, and are ramping up on-board entertainment with Broadway shows and appearances of Tony-award winning actors and reality show stars, he said.
A CLIA poll of travel agents who book cruises showed that multigenerational travel, weddings and honeymoons are seen as the top potential growth groups for cruises.
"It's all about innovation, global markets and how you open up to them," said Berra.
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