The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released figures today showing that cruise passenger figures have grown to 1,281,159 in 2016 – a 21 per cent increase from the 2015 numbers.

Australia remains as the top country which has the highest population penetration with 5.3 per cent and the cruise lines are aiming to grow the numbers to two million by 2020.

The figures also show that Aussies are taking more domestic cruises with the number of local cruisers growing by 23.4 per cent. In 2016, there were 332,979 passengers who travelled around Australia.

The South Pacific remains the most popular overseas destination for Aussie cruisers due to the proximity and the large number of cruise lines that visit one of our closest neighbours. But the place to watch is over the Tasman Sea with over 100,000 passengers now cruising to New Zealand.

In 2016, Alaska saw a 25.5 per cent increase as a long-haul flight destination for cruisers but other regions like Europe and Asia fell by significant numbers – 11.8 per cent and 10.1 per cent respectively.

Short break cruises of four days or less leapt in popularity growing by 59.7 per cent and cruises of 22 and over days rose by more than 20 per cent.

While there were great international arrivals like Ovation of the Seas, 2016 also saw the first time that local homeported ships saw over a million passengers cruise with lines like Carnival Cruises Australia and P&O Australia.

NSW still remains as the biggest source market for cruise passengers with 40.8 per cent of all Australian cruise passengers coming from the state. Queensland follows in second place with a record breaking year of 307,736 people cruising while Victoria came in third with a 23.8 per cent increase on the 2015 figures.

Western Australia and South Australia experience strong growth as well.

But while the figures have been positive, heads of cruise lines have articulated that the growth will be unsustainable if port infrastructure is not improved around Australia, particularly Sydney.

CLIA Australasia’s managing director Joel Katz said, “these results reconfirm cruising as Australia’s fastest growth tourism sector, worth close to $5 bullion annually to the economy and supporting almost 20,000 jobs. Cruise lines are already announcing that lack of capacity in Sydney is forcing them to redeploy their ships. The knock-on effect of this will impact thousands of travel agents, hotels, restaurants, transportation companies and all the Australian suppliers large and small who provide the food and beverage and other supplies to the cruise industry.

“The current growth of the Australian market and the fact it surpasses more established markets, is a reflection that Australians are increasingly embracing cruise as a preferred holiday. Resolving the lack of berthing space in Sydney Harbour is an absolute priority to ensure the continued growth of cruise tourism in Australia.”

Royal Caribbean’s managing director Adam Armstrong, who has been outspoken in the need to improve Sydney’s port infrastructure, said something needs to be done to reach the two million figure.

“We are seeing a cruise market that is on a growth path quite unlike anything that’s been seen in the world, outside of China,” Armstrong commented.

“The question everybody wants to understand is just how much potential growth there is for this market. I believe the only impediment to reaching our target of two million Australian cruisers by 2020 is port infrastructure. Sydney is already full. We need to upgrade all of our ports to enable them to handle the largest of the world’s cruise ships.”