More Australians are going on international cruises. Data from the International Cruise Council of Australiasia (ICCA) released on Tuesday said 623,000 Aussies went on cruise holidays in 2011. It is a 34 per cent hike compared to the 466,000 who went on cruises in2010.

While other industries are going through tough times, the cruising sector continues to enjoy expansion, pointed out ICCA Chairman Gavin Smith. The Australian cruising industry grew an annual average of 23 per cent since 2006, but the other markets such as the U.S. and UK expanded at a weaker rate of 4 to 5 per cent.

The strong Australian dollar, the bane of Aussie exporters, is the reason behind the vast growth of the cruising industry in the country as more cruises that are affordable become available to Australians.

Griffith University Tourism Studies professor Ross Dowling attributed the fast growth of the industry to the Australian market being an emerging one, not a mature market like North American. While mass cruising took off in the late 1970s, Aussies were late bloomers and started to join cruises only in the early 2000s, Mr Dowling said.

By state, 40 percent of the Aussie cruisers come from New South Wales, followed by Queensland (24 per cent) and Victoria (16 per cent).

By destination, South Pacific is the favourite destination of Aussie cruisers and accounts for 37 per cent of all cruises. However, the largest growth was registered by the New Zealand cruise market which expanded by 80 per cent for the same period.

“It’s taking a bite out of Australian terrestrial travel… A number of retirees, (who) used to be called the grey nomads, used to travel in four-wheel-drives, (they’re) becoming blue nomads and taking up cruising instead,” Mr Dowling was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald.

He explained the shift to lesser cost. A four-wheel-drive would cost Aussies $100,000 while a cruise costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

A proof of how popular cruising has become in Australia is that 150 ships are expected to dock for the coming summer season in Sydney, Australia’s cruising capital. Next season the superliner Voyager of the Seas – which features an ice-skating rink on board – will make its maiden trip to Australia next season, along with the Carnival Spirit, which has the fastest and steepest water slide on the ocean, and three other cruise vessels.

At the rate Aussies are going on international cruises, the industry would likely exceed its target of one million cruise holidays yearly by 2020, said Carnival Australia Chief Executive Officer Ann Sherry.

To contact the editor, e-mail: editor@ibtimes.com