Holidays at sea have never been more popular. A record 27.2m people are expected to take a cruise in 2018, up from 25.8m last year, and just 17.8m a decade ago.
But the rapid growth of the industry has caused tension in dozens of destinations, including Venice, Dubrovnik and Mallorca. Anti-cruise protests have become commonplace in the Italian city, residents of Dubrovnik told Telegraph Travel last year that the industry is “ruining” their city, while overcrowding in Palma de Mallorca – where as many as 500 cruise ships now dock each year, depositing up to 22,000 passengers a day – has led to calls for a cap on visitors.
Cruise ships aren’t the only contributor to overcrowding, of course, but they have come under extra scrutiny. That’s because, besides arriving all at once and creating queues, cruise ship passengers spend very little money ashore and therefore don’t help the local economy.
The countries with the most cruise passengers
Europe’s seaside cities might be feeling the strain, but the Caribbean is – by a distance – the world’s biggest region for cruising. According to UNWTO statistics for 2016, 34 per cent of all cruise passengers are to be found there, compared with 18 per cent in the Mediterranean.
The Bahamas really stands out. Its proximity to Florida means it is the first or last port of call for hundreds of sailings from major cruise hubs like Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Around 4.7m cruise passengers visited the country in 2016. With a population of just 391,232, that amounts to 13 cruise passengers for every resident. Only 400,000 people who visited the Bahamas in 2016 didn’t do so on a cruise. More than a dozen other destinations in the region receive more cruise passengers each year than regular international tourists.
The UNWTO does not have data for every country – the US, UK, Italy and France are notable omissions – but for those nations that have provided statistics, only one welcomes more cruise passengers than The Bahamas: Mexico, with a total of 6.7m. It is another favourite for ships departing from Florida, with the island of Cozumel, just south of Cancun, appearing on countless itineraries.
Completing the top five are Greece, Spain and South Korea.
When it comes to cruise arrivals per capita, however, a new winner is crowned. The island of Sint Maarten has a population of just over 40,000, but welcomes an impressive 1.67m cruise passengers. That’s 41.6 per year for every resident.
Cruise arrivals outnumber locals in a further 16 destinations, including Bermuda, St Lucia, Belize and Malta.
The cruise capitals of the world
The three busiest cruise ports are all found in the same US state. The Port of Miami handled 4.98m passengers in 2016, Port Canaveral in Orlando handled 4.25m, while Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale despatched 3.83m for a sailing on the high seas. People in Florida really like going on cruises.
Cozumel and Nassua, in the Bahamas, complete the top five. Because they are so close to Florida.
Europe’s busiest cruise port is another city that is battling the problem of overtourism: Barcelona. Of the 2.68m welcomed by the Catalan capital, 1.27m were in transit. The rest either started or finished their cruise in the city. The other European cities in the top 20 are Civitavecchia, close to Rome, Ports de Balears in Mallorca, Venice, Marseille, Southampton, Piraeus, close to Athens, and Naples.
Where do the world’s cruise passengers come from?
As the statistics above have already demonstrated, Americans are by far the world’s keenest cruisers. Almost half of all passengers come from the US.
The largest source markets in Europe are Germany and the UK, followed by Italy, France and Spain.
The number of Chinese cruise passengers, meanwhile, is growing fast. It overtook the UK and Germany recently to become the second largest market (though still some way behind the US).