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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Up to 16 million people are expected to take cruises this year, an increase of 6.6 percent over 2010, with Europe, the Caribbean and Alaska among the top destinations.
"We are very bullish about 2011," Bob Sharak, of the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA), told a press conference. "The cruise industry has been extremely resilient, particularly during the latest economic downturn."
About three-quarters of cruise passengers last year were from the United States and Canada and 26 percent were international, according to CLIA, North America's largest cruise industry group with 25 member cruise lines.
Its 2011 forecast is based on previous passenger numbers and current bookings.
Sharak, CLIA's executive vice president for marketing and distribution, credits exciting new ships, increasing global passengers, new destinations and the inclusivity of cruises for the buoyant outlook.
As CLIA released its report on Thursday, Cunard Line's new Queen Elizabeth cruise liner made its maiden call in New York. As it set off on a world cruise it was set to rendezvous with its sister ships, Queen Mary and Queen Victoria, for a fireworks display in New York Harbor.
Walt Disney Co's new 4,000 passenger, $900 million, cruise liner, which was rolled out last week in Florida, is due to make it maiden Caribbean cruise on January 26.
The world's largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which can carry more than 6,000 passengers, was launched in 2009.
Although North Americans and Europeans make up the bulk of cruise passengers, Sharak said only a small percentage of the residents of those regions took cruises in 2010.
"We have lots of room to grow," he added.
Cruise lines are also looking to new markets in China, Brazil and Russia, and for new destinations in Asia, the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands.
An increase in group and family bookings and consumers booking earlier are also positive signs, according to CLIA.
A 2010 study by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) also revealed how lucrative cruises are for the ports where the ships call.
The study, conducted by Business Research and Economic Advisors (BREA), showed cruise passengers and crew spent an estimated $144.6 million in New York City in 2010, up from $93.8 million the previous year. Embarking passengers had the deepest pockets and spent $117.9 million.
The average spending for passengers staying in the city before and after the cruise was $437 per person for a two-night stay.