July 30, 2009 / 3:46 PM / 8 years ago

Despite economic downturn, cruise vacations popular

<p>Tourists arrive on board the Carnival Victory cruise ship at the port known as Port Sante in Basseterre June 13, 2009.Eduardo Munoz</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The worldwide economy is in the doldrums and jobless numbers are rising but it hasn't stopped people from taking cruises to get away from it all.

Globally, 13 million passengers took a cruise last year, four percent more than the previous year, including nearly 9 million who embarked from a U.S. port, according to a new report released by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Although the numbers marked a small decline from U.S. ports, Terry Dale, the president and CEO of CLIA, said demand increased in the European market.

"Our industry is becoming more and more global. That is a very positive development for us," he told a teleconference to launch the report.

Interest in cruising is reaching an all-time high in Europe, and is growing in Asia, but the United States is still the dominant market, the report showed.

"I think globalization is just going to be a natural, evolutionary offshoot of where we are going," said Bob Sharak, the executive vice president of CLIA, North America's largest cruise industry organization.

"In 2008 the cruise industry continued to increase its presence in Europe," he said, adding it represents a 14 percent increase from 2007.

In the United States, Florida is the center of the U.S. cruising industry and has three of the top ports, Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, in the nation, followed by California.

The report compiled by Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA) showed that a typical 2,500 passenger ship generates about $330,000 from passengers and crew in the embarkation port and $320,000 in a port-of-call city on taxis, restaurants, attractions and shopping.

Mega ships, with as many as 4,000 passengers, would generate even more income for cities.

"We've seen occupancies well in excess of 100 percent and a mix of U.S. and international guests -- about the same," Sharak explained.

"People not only want to take a vacation. They absolutely need to take a vacation. They are working harder and they need to get away and they want to get away and get the best bang for their buck."

Almost 35 million Americans intend to cruise over the next three years, according to an industry market profile report.

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