New statistics show that almost 40,000 New Zealanders took a cruise last year – a massive 29 per cent increase on 2007 passenger numbers.

The figures, released by the International Cruise Council Australasia today, show that the number of New Zealand cruise passengers surged from 30,215 in 2007 to 38,968 last year.

The 29 per cent growth rate is more than double the 14 per cent increase in New Zealand passenger numbers recorded in 2007.

It also compares favourably to the 5 per cent growth reported by the US market in 2008, is more than double the estimated 12 per cent growth for the UK cruise market and tops the 26 per cent increase recorded by the Australian cruise industry.

Announcing the figures in Auckland today, Cruise Council General Manager Brett Jardine said New Zealand’s record year was the result of growing awareness of cruising as a great value holiday as well as increased capacity in the market and greater itinerary options.

“There’s no question that in the present tough economic environment more and more holidaymakers are attracted to cruising because it includes transport, accommodation, meals and entertainment in one fare,” Mr Jardine said.

Mr Jardine said the latest figures revealed particularly strong growth for the emerging river cruise market, with European river cruising numbers almost doubling from 899 to 1669 in 2008.

The statistics also show:

* The most popular cruise destination in 2008 was Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific, representing 66 per cent of the market (25,613) and posting growth of 31 per cent on 2007
* Europe (river cruising and ocean cruising) ranked as the second most popular destination, representing 17 per cent of the market (6447) – an increase of 39 per cent on 2007 figures
* Alaska was the third most singular popular cruising destination for New Zealanders, attracting 5.5 per cent (2050) with numbers rising by 27 per cent on 2007 figures
* Estimated annual sea days rose by 35 per cent to 421,075 in 2008, revealing more New Zealanders are cruising for a longer time
* Total New Zealand cruise passenger numbers have grown 41 per cent from 26,510 in 2006, the first year they were recorded.