The just-released State of the Cruise Industry annual report shows a remarkable post-pandemic rebound in 2023, with 2 million more people cruising in 2023 versus 2019. The 7% hike brings the total number of global cruisers to an astounding 31.7 million. 

The stats, compiled by the Cruise Lines International Association trade group, also show an eye-popping spike of 71% in expedition cruise guests. 

The cruise numbers are up, up, up. Cruise passengers are up, intent to cruise is up, first-time cruisers are up, expedition cruisers are up —and it’s all great news for the global cruise industry. So says the data in the annual State of the Cruise Industry report published on April 9, 2024, by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Let’s dive into some numbers: Cruise tourism has rebounded in a spectacular way from pre-pandemic 2019, reaching 107% of that year’s levels in 2023. The total number of cruisers worldwide reached 31.7 million and in 2024 is predicted to top 35 million.

Expedition cruising has become a leading vacation option, showing a more than 70% increase in passengers choosing these voyages.

Travelers intending to take a cruise vacation spiked 6% higher than in 2019, with Millennials —those ages 28 to 43, showing the most enthusiasm for a future cruise. In a harbinger of even better days ahead, the number of first-time cruisers jumped by 27% compared to two years ago and by 12% in the past year, showing that more travelers are giving cruising a try.

Cruise Ships Docked at PortMiami, Florida (Photo Credit: Anthony Giarrusso)

Other key findings include multi-generational groups embracing cruising as a great vacation choice, with 30% of families cruising together having at least two generations in the group, and 28% having three to five generations in the group.

Cruise continues to be one of the fastest-growing and most resilient sectors of tourism— rebounding faster than international tourist arrivals—and a strong contributor to local and national economies,said Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA.

Over the past 50 years, cruise tourism has demonstrated its leadership in managed tourism and is an industry that has plenty of room for continued responsible growth given cruise travel comprises just 2% of overall travel and tourism,added Craighead.

Virtually all of the major cruise companies, most of which operate multiple brands, have reported positive financial results in the last several months.

Carnival Corporation, operator of nine popular brands, in March 2024 revealed record first-quarter revenues of $5.4 billion, surpassing the record numbers from the cruise operator in 2023.

Its growth was driven by unprecedented booking volumes during wave season — the first-quarter cruise promotion strategy — combined with higher cruise prices. The company still reported a net loss of $180 million, but its brands remain in high demand. 

The annual report noted that global cruise capacity is forecast to grow from 677,000 lower berths in 2024 to 745,000 lower berths in 2028, as cruise companies continue to welcome new ships into their fleets and place orders for future construction.

In the last two months, for instance, Carnival Cruise Line ordered two new Excel-class ships, set to launch in 2027 and 2028, each with a capacity of 6,700 guests. Earlier this week, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced it plans to build eight new ships for its three brands.

Cruise Ships Docked in Miami, Florida (Photo Credit: BLAZE Pro)

The company will build four 5,000-guest mega-ships for Norwegian Cruise Line, with staggered delivery dates slated for 2030, 2032, 2034, and 2036. Its Oceania Cruises brand will receive two new ships, each with a capacity for 1,450 guests and due to launch in 2027 and 2029. Finally, the company ordered two ships for its ultra-luxury brand Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The 850-guest ships are slated to enter service in 2026 and 2029.

Read Also: How Many Cruise Ships Are There?

The global economic impact number for 2023 is not yet available, but in 2022, it reached $138 billion. The industry accounted for 1.2 million jobs, an increase of 4% versus 2019, and paid $43 billion in wages.

Indeed, the cruise industry workforce is the focus of another CLIA publication. For the first time, the group has included a report titled Oceans of Opportunities, which tracks the industry’s multi-national workforce of some 300,000 employees who hail from 150-plus countries. The publication highlights various employment opportunities within the industry.

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