European states should work together to streamline the currently cumbersome and slow process of issuing tourist visas to non-EU cruise passengers, thereby unlocking potentially huge demand for European cruises, said Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, the chairman of the Europe Cruise Council.

Mr Lefebvre d’Ovidio said: “The opportunities to attract cruise tourists from other parts of the world to Europe - with its unique and rich cultural heritage - are enormous. We are concerned, however, that this huge potential is being hampered by unnecessarily bureaucratic procedures for the issuing of tourist visas into Europe.

“Unlocking this potential would be greatly assisted by international action to facilitate and simplify the process of issuing tourist visas to cruise passengers from around the world wishing to experience a European cruise,” he said.

Mr Lefebvre d’Ovidio said he was encouraged that EU institutions, notably commission vice president Antonio Tajani, have recognised the urgent need for action to encourage in-bound tourism but he said political will was now needed to make progress on simplifying the process of issuing tourist visas.

The number of people who chose a cruise holiday in Europe has more than doubled in the past decade to over 5.6 million passengers in 2011, of whom about one million are non-European nationals. In total, passengers and crew spent an estimated total €3.5 billion during visits to the 250 port cities that welcomed cruise ships last year in Europe, according to ECC data. Including port-of-embarkation visits, each passenger spent on average over €99 every time he or she visited a European port, the ECC said in its June 2012 report on the contribution of cruise tourism to the economies of Europe.