Australia’s amazing love affair with cruise was being celebrated at a global conference today – with the international CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines Arnold Donald describing a “golden age of cruising”.

Australia is heading for two million passengers injecting $5 billion into the economy by 2020. It already has the world’s highest penetration of the population at 5.3%.

Globally, Cruise Lines International Association chair Steve Odell of Norwegian Cruise Lines predicted a huge rise from the current international figure of 25 million passengers to 36 million by 2039.

But two keynote speakers – Sarina Bratton, Australia Pacific chair of Ponant and Adam Armstrong, MD of Royal Caribbean – sounded distinctly different warnings.

Ms Bratton, a pioneer of adventure cruising in Australia, said there were concerns about how many people were heading to the polar regions, some with little experience of operating there and on ships built by yards that had little history building ice-class vessels.

“There is a lot of discussion at the highest level of the leaders of those sailing to the polar regions about what is being done to protect the space.”

Mr Armstrong said he was frustrated that, after 10 years of talking, Sydney’s infrastructure hadn’t changed.

But he said a new Cruise Reference Group established by the state government was causing some optimism.

But he warned: “We’ve set ourselves this golden target of two millions guests by 2020. But we’re never going to get to two million guests by 2020 because those 700,000 extra guests are only going to come from additional ships coming to Australia, and we don’t have anywhere to put them.”

He said Royal Caribbean had already withdrawn capacity because of the problem.