Travel Trends: Caribbean is most popular cruise destination, but niche markets growing fast

For the first nine years of the 21st Century, the Caribbean Islands have been the most popular cruise destination for travelers from around the world, according to figures provided by the Cruise Lines International Association.

Each year since 2000, about one-third of people who cruised chose to do so in the Caribbean. However, from a high of 42% in 2002, the number of travelers dropped to 32% in 2009, suggesting that the Caribbean may no longer have the appeal it once did.

Significant increases in nights spent aboard a cruise ship by travelers were recorded in those choosing the Mediterranean as a cruise destination. In 2000, the Mediterranean represented 12% of the cruise market. In 2009, it was chosen by 16% of travelers.

Niche markets growing fast
The largest gain, however, was reported in small ship cruises to Antarctica. In 2000, the destination was chosen by less than 1% of all cruisers. By 2009, Antarctica saw a 23% gain in cruise travelers — though the total number of cruisers to Antarctica remained at less than 3% of all cruisers.Such a significant growth in Antarctica as a destination reinforces comments by Larry Dressler, executive director of the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance, who says the number of beds available to those interested in a small ship experience has grown from 200,000 in 2005 to about 500,000 by the end of 2010.

“It’s really hard to pinpoint the exact number of people who take advantage of small ship cruises or niche cruises, because of the unique experience of this type of travel,” said Dressler. “A number of opportunities are on freighters and ships not necessarily known as a cruise ship, and keeping track of who is going where in that realm is nearly impossible.”

A small ship is identified as carrying fewer than 500 passengers — some as few as only a couple of dozen. Simply because of the size of the ships, guests should not expect a large quantity of onboard facilities found on some of the better-known “mega ships.” There is usually one dining facility, limited shopping, few casinos, and minimal onboard entertainment. That’s okay, though, because, “The destination has to be the focus of small ship cruising,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of, pointing out that places like the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica can only be seen via a small ship.

CLIA reports the overall growth rate of cruising from 1990 – 2008 at 7.2%. The nights spent aboard a cruise ship by all travelers grew from 53.8 million in 2000 to 96.2 in 2009.


Source data: Cruise Line International Association

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