A recent report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution quotes the Associated Press as saying, "Fewer Americans took cruises in 2008 than 2007, according to new industry data, showing that cruising's core constituency may be weakening despite continued growth in the pastime worldwide."
Citing statistics from the Cruise Lines Intl Association's (CLIA) annual economic impact statement, the AP continues, "fewer cruise ships set sail from U.S. ports in 2008 than the previous year." They also report that embarkations from American ports accounted for 77 percent of all cruises worldwide as recently as 2004. By 2008, that percentage fell to 69 percent as cruise travel burgeoned in Europe.
As an example of shifts in the US market, they point out that Norwegian Cruise Lines re-christened and re-flagged Pride of Hawaii, which and now sails year-round in Europe as Norwegian Jade, and Pride of Aloha, that now sails from Miami as Norwegian Sky. The departure of Pride of Hawaii and Pride of Aloha accounted for a 59 percent drop in Honolulu embarkations. On the other hand, the Port of Miami saw an increase of 11 percent in its cruise traffic. That's hardly a picture of doom and gloom for the US, but it's only a part of the cruise industry story.
Despite the decline in US cruise embarkations, overall cruise traffic grew between 2007 and 2008, when more than 13 million people worldwide took a cruise. And, while American passenger numbers have increased annually, the percentages have been shrinking in recent years until they became negative in 2008. Posting a 1.7 percent decline, only about 9.3 million passengers embarked on cruises originating in US ports during 2008.
What that means for Americans in the short term is deep discounting of fares to fill cruise ships sailing from our ports and something a bit more disheartening—cruise lines are looking elsewhere for passengers to fill their ships. Just as drive-to "homeland" cruising is popular in the US, it's becoming increasingly important around the globe. Just last week Royal Caribbean Intl opened a Brazilian office in Sao Paulo to tap market demand there.
CLIA doesn't forecast that the American market is stagnating, but it may see less growth as cruise vacations experience a wave of popularity around the world.