Figures released from the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) show that 2012 was a record year for UK cruise ports.

Passenger embarkations increased 10 percent (up to 962,000 in 2012), with 78,000 extra UK and 6,000 additional overseas passengers. The fourth double-digit increase in cruise passenger embarkations in just seven years puts British ports on course to hit the million mark in 2013.

The most substantial increase in capacity has come in the south coast ports of Southampton, Dover and most recently, Portsmouth. The growth in popularity of ex-UK cruises can largely be attributed to the ease of access to the ships for those living in the south.

There was a similar increase in passengers visiting UK ports during their cruises. The 11 percent increase saw 723,000 passengers visit British ports, double the 2007 figure. The number of UK ports receiving cruise calls also increased to a record 52.

2012 also saw more British passengers taking an ocean cruise holiday than ever before – an additional 1,000 brought the total to 1,701,000.

The figure is indicative of the loyalty of cruise passengers, given the challenging nature of the year which opened with the Concordia tragedy and saw the UK economy dip back into recession. Cruise continues to account for one in every eight of all overseas package holidays.

As in previous years the most popular destination was the Mediterranean, which saw 698,000 British passengers visiting the region.

However the noticeable trend was increased appetite for cruising to Northern Europe which experienced a 29 percent upsurge with 443,000 passengers, up from 342,000 the previous year. The increase was fuelled by Britons’ growing taste for Norwegian fjords which saw nearly 200,000 passengers visiting the region (44.5 percent of the Northern European bookings).

Continued growth was also seen in ‘ultra luxury’ cruising. 1.7 percent of cruises booked by Britons in 2012 were classified in this sector, which represents an increase of 2,581 passengers and recession-defying year-on-year growth of 10 percent. Sales of summer ‘ultra luxury’ cruises increased by an even more striking 30 percent.

In terms of motivation, value for money was the main reason for Britons choosing their last cruise holiday. But when it comes to the appeal of a cruise in general, it’s itinerary and destination that topped the list (cited by 70 percent of passengers surveyed) for the fourth consecutive year.

The number of British passengers who took more than one cruise in 2012 increased by 12 percentage points to 54 percent. 374,220 Britons – the highest ever - booked three or more cruises within the year, reflecting regular British cruisers’ confidence in the industry’s safety record.

Regional distribution of UK cruise passengers had altered slightly, with an increase in southern passengers. Since 2006 the number of passengers from the southeast had increased 10 percentage points from 14 to 24 percent. The mix of passengers from outside of England stayed stable, with Scottish passengers constant at 11 percent; a slight increase in Welsh cruise passengers (from 5 to 6 percent) and a small drop in the proportion passengers from Northern Ireland (3 to 2 percent). Absolute numbers of passengers increased to around 187,000 from Scotland, 102,000 from Wales and 34,000 from Northern Ireland.

PSA director, William Gibbons, said: ‘The past year was an impressive one for the UK cruise industry, especially in view of the combination of challenges the year presented. The increase in passenger figures bears testament to the value and diversity that cruising represents and the positive experiences that bring passengers back time and time again. We feel 2012’s record results for British ports are particularly remarkable and we very much look forward to seeing UK ports achieve the million mark in 2013, and the associated economic benefits that this will bring to the country.’

Key figures released by the Passenger Shipping Association:

•  1,701,000 cruises were taken by British passengers in 2012
•  Ultra-luxury cruises saw a 10 percent year-on-year increase
•  More than half of all UK passengers took more than one cruise during the year
•  British bookings to Northern European destinations grew by 29 percent
•  UK departures were up 10 percent to 962,000 in 2012
•  One in eight overseas package holidays booked is now a cruise
•  52 UK ports received cruise calls in 2012