The cruise industry is contributing a record amount to the economies of Europe with passenger numbers up more than 20 percent since the financial crisis. Ivor Bennett looks at the reasons why and the opportunities it offers.
They're not so much ships anymore, but floating cities. At nearly 350 metres, this cruise liner is longer than the Eiffel tower is tall. A reflection of just how much size matters, says Carnival UK's David Dingle. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID DINGLE, CHAIRMAN, CARNIVAL UK, SAYING: "We have a much greater economy of scale. We become much more cost efficient and as we do so we can offer lower more attractive prices while still making very good returns on our ship investments." So good in fact, economic output for the European cruise industry is at a record high - hitting 40.2 billion euros in 2014. That's up 2.2 percent on 2013. And 15 percent on 2009. All driven by a surge in passengers. A record 5.9 million people booked a cruise in Europe last year. Up 21% in the last five years. CIBC's Jeremy Stretch. SOUNDBITE (English) JEREMY STRETCH, HEAD OF FX STRATEGY, CIBC, SAYING: "I think we are seeing holiday-makers looking at alternative scenarios. And I think also as we're talking about ageing demographics across certainly the majority of Western economies, then something like a cruise ship holiday could well become rather more favourable." And not just for the silver surfers. a new breed of ships has transformed the industry's image With onboard entertainment now pitching at much younger, and more agile, clientele. The key to future growth though may be beyond Europe's shores. In Asia, passenger numbers soared 70 percent for one operator last year. But it's a market with its challenges. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID DINGLE, CHAIRMAN, CARNIVAL UK, SAYING: "Chinese guests for instance are less interested in what I might call the bar experience which is of course very important for Western markets. They are hugely interested in gambling and they are hugely interested in the retail experience. So it's a case of reusing some of the public space and repurposing it." Less than 1 million non-Europeans took a cruise in Europe last year and most of those were American. But the industry's clearly confident demand from abroad will increase. 29 new ships are on order compared to 24 in 2013, including what will be the world's biggest.