UK Cruise Tourism Celebrates Remarkable Rebound

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Great Britain’s cruise data from 2023 is officially in, and the results show a full and powerful recovery, with ship calls and guest arrivals surpassing pre-pandemic numbers. At ports across the UK, records were broken for embarkations as well as for daily transit port calls.

Cruise Arrivals Break Pre-Pandemic Records

Cruise Britain issued a cruise tourism status report on April 2, 2024, showing that the sector enjoyed record-breaking cruise ship calls, guest arrivals, and embarkations. In 2023, 2,499 ships called at ports across the UK, exceeding the number from 2019.

The number of cruisers embarking on a voyage from a British port broke the 1.5 million mark for the first time, reflecting a 26% spike versus the previous record set in 2018.

Port calls brought 2.16 million cruise guests onto British shores, a 24% increase over the previous record set in 2019. Each guest who books a shore excursion or tours a port area on his own injects an average of £70 ($88 USD) into the local economy. With the cruise arrivals numbers from 2023, the sector provided a substantial £150 million ($189 million USD) for Britain’s coastal regions.

Taken together, 123 ships from 53 cruise lines made port calls or embarked guests — many of them doing so multiple times. The ships visited a total of 57 ports across Great Britain.

Cruise Britain’s research also found that more than 75% of transit guests were non-UK nationals. The key inbound markets were the US and Germany.

Cruise Britain, a joint initiative between British cruise ports and service providers such as ground handlers and port agents, this year marks its 15th anniversary, and noted that since its launch transit passengers have increased by an astounding 500%. The organization also covers major hubs, such as Southampton.

Carnival Pride Ship Docked in Liverpool, UK
Carnival Pride Ship Docked in Liverpool, UK (Photo Credit: Sergii Figurnyi)

“Cruise is now an important part of the tourism landscape for many ports and destinations, and we are seeing the rewards for an industry that has consistently worked together to recover, regenerate and develop,said Ian McQuade, chairman of Cruise Britain

Looking ahead to this year, we see the growth trajectory continuing with England’s south coast and Scotland continuing to underpin national cruise growth. Regional ports in all four of our nations reported record 2023 figures and all will look to build on that growth,added McQuade.

Scotland and the south coast of England have been reporting phenomenal cruise numbers for months. Portsmouth International Port, located about 25 miles west of Southampton, recently completed a new terminal at South Harbor and is attracting larger ships. It welcomed 75 ship calls in 2023 and expects that number will increase this year. 

The cruise industry has been gangbusters at several Scottish ports. The Port of Cromarty Firth, for instance, considered the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, received a record 130 ship calls and 221,000 cruise arrivals, representing an economic infusion of  £29 million ($36 million USD) into the local economy.

Cruise Ship Visiting Port in Scotland
Cruise Ship Visiting Port in Scotland (Photo Credit: ATGImages)

The port is gearing up to welcome several notable ships in 2024, with many making their inaugural calls. They include Cunard’s new Queen Anne, due to launch in May 2024, along with Viking’s Viking Saturn, Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Lyrial, Albatross Expeditions’ Ocean Albatros, TUI Cruises’ MeinShiff 7, and Azamara Cruises’ Azamara Onward.

Smaller Ports Also Reaping Cruise-Tourism Benefits

Even Great Britain’s smaller ports are posting encouraging cruise-tourism numbers. Aberdeen, a North Sea port 125 miles north of Edinburgh, attracted 43 ship calls in 2023 and is on target to receive at least 55 in 2024, with vessels from AIDA Cruises, Silversea, Azamara Cruises, and Oceania Cruises booked to call.

Read Also: The Essential Guide to All Southampton Cruise Terminals

“The UK continues to offer and expand our incredibly diverse cruise holiday experience for guests and this is one of the most powerful reasons for the growth that we are seeing,said Cruise Britain’s McQuade.

More remote ports also are enjoying a cruise recovery, including Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands. The destination, located about midway between Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, and the Scottish mainland, is on track to experience its busiest season yet, with 149 ships slated to call.

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