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The number of Australians taking holidays at sea has overtaken pre-pandemic levels, according to new data released today by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Figures for 2023 show the number of Australians who took an ocean cruise during the calendar year reached 1.25 million, slightly above the 1.24 million who sailed in 2019.

That’s the equivalent of 164 Icon of the Seas ships at full capacity.

CLIA’s 2023 Source Market Report for Australia confirms a recovery in the local cruise market, coming little more than 18 months after the resumption of operations in this region.

“Australians have not just returned to cruising, they’ve come back with enormous enthusiasm and at a faster pace than in other markets worldwide,” said CLIA Managing Director in Australasia Joel Katz. “Australia has long been one of the world’s most passionate cruise source markets, and these figures confirm an enduring love for cruising among Australian travellers.”

CLIA’s figures also show a revival in the number of overseas visitors cruising in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, which reached 217,000 during 2023, a similar level to 2019.

Australians showed a preference for close-to home itineraries – about 84.8% cruised within Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific during 2023, up from 72.5% in 2019.

The figures also show a fall in the average age of Australian cruisers as the sector continued to attract younger generations. The average age of an Australian cruise passenger was 48.4 years in 2023, down from 50.4 in 2019, while almost one third of cruisers (32.5%) were aged under 40.

Key findings from CLIA’s 2023 Source Market Report for Australia include:

  • 1.25 million Australians took an ocean cruise during 2023, up from 1.24 million in 2019 and close to the all-time high of 1.35 million achieved in 2018.
  • NSW remained the biggest source of Australian cruise passengers (720,849, or 57.7%), followed by Qld (287,259, or 23.0%), Vic (135,623, or10.9%), WA (47,508, or 3.8%), SA (47,415, or 3.8%), Tas (6,855, or 0.5%), ACT (2,275, or 0.2%) and the NT (1,764, or 0.1%).
  • Cruising’s market penetration rate in Australia was close to 5% – almost one in every 20 Australians took an ocean cruise, one of the highest rates in the world.
  • The average duration of an ocean cruise taken by Australians in 2023 was 8.1 days, down from 9.0 days in 2019, reflecting the rise in short-break cruises offered by cruise lines.
  • The average age of an Australian cruise passenger was 48.4 in 2023, down from 50.4 in 2019, reflecting the increasing popularity of cruising among younger generations.
  • The most popular cruise region for Australians in 2023 was Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific (84.8%), followed by the Mediterranean (5.3%), Asia (2.5%), Alaska (1.9%), Northern Europe (1.0%), the Caribbean (1.0%), Trans-Atlantic & World Cruises (0.8%), Hawaii & the US West Coast (0.7%) and Expedition Cruises (0.7%).
  • The number of overseas visitors who cruised in Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific during 2023 was 217,000, a similar level to 2019.
  • Worldwide, a record 31.7 million people took an ocean cruise during 2023, breaking the previous global record of 29.7 million in 2019.
  • At 1.25 million passengers, Australia was the world’s fourth largest cruise market in 2023, behind the United States (16.9 million), Germany (2.5 million) and the United Kingdom (2.2 million).

While demand for cruising is strong, Mr Katz said close collaboration from governments and ports was needed to support the sustainability of cruise tourism into the future.

“To maintain our position as a leading destination and meet demand, it’s crucial that regulatory frameworks and port charges remain internationally competitive,” Mr Katz said. “Balanced regulation and reasonable costs are fundamental to fostering a thriving cruise sector capable of contributing significantly to the Australian economy.”

Previous figures released last year by CLIA and the Australian Cruise Association (ACA) showed a record economic impact from cruise tourism during the 2022-23 financial year, providing more than $5.6 billion for the national economy. The CLIA-ACA Economic Impact Assessment found more than 18,000 jobs were supported by cruise tourism around the country.