Does the industry have more potential in North America?As China became the biggest source market for international travel, with some 82 million Chinese travelers spending $102 billion in 2012, will the cruise industry find its future in China?

According to the 2013 Cruise Industry News Annual Report, it is too early to tell as only a handful of ships are dedicated to the Chinese and Asian markets and much of the travel is to nearby Hong Kong, Macau and to visit relatives abroad. But the travelers are there, and there will be more as the middle class grows larger, if they can be converted to cruise passengers.

In addition, other emerging markets are growing their travel expenditures. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which gathers such statistics, in 2012, the Russian Federation moved up in spending from 7th to 5th place, and Brazil has moved from 29th to 12th place over the past five years.

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While China and the so-called emerging markets have strong growth potential, the traditional cruise markets dominate and are expected to do so for the foreseeable future. Despite its promise, the challenges in China are many, including the fact that very few get paid vacations, and travel has been closely regulated by the government. Thus, it is not only about tapping a new market, but about changing mindsets and customs.

So the bet is on slow but steady growth in Asia, while the traditional markets continue to be the backbone of the industry.

Not to forget, there is also more potential in North America, with many more people visiting Las Vegas and Orlando, for example, than go on cruises. And with European markets expected to reach the same penetration level of approximately 3.5 percent as North America, 18 million more Europeans would be cruising, meaning the world fleet would have to double.

If 18 million more Europeans, as well as more Americans, are not promising enough, what happens when Asian markets “discover” cruising – like they have in Brazil and Australia?

According to Cruise Industry News, the industry’s actual growth rate is based on newbuild orders which taper off from 3.4 percent in 2016, to 1.6 percent in 2017, 1 percent in 2018, 0.7 percent in 2019 and 0.1 percent in 2020, when passenger capacity reaches 23.6 million, up from 20.4 million this year.

Financial analysts and cruise line executives, however, have suggested an average annual industry-wide growth pace of about 3 percent, which means it would be able carry more than 25 million passengers by 2020 and nearly 30 million by 2025.

Thirty million passengers would mean similar market penetration levels in North America and Europe, for example, but does not take China into account.

Thirty million passengers spending $1,600 each would translate into $48 billion out of the $1 trillion the UNTWO claimed for tourism spending in 2011 – or 4.8 percent of the total global tourism market.