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Fewer cruise ships sail from U.S. ports


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MIAMI » Fewer Americans took cruises in 2008 than 2007, according to new industry data, showing that cruising's core constituency might be weakening despite continued growth in the pastime worldwide.

For the first time since 1998, when the Cruise Lines International Association started publishing economic-impact reports, fewer cruise ships set sail from U.S. ports in 2008 than the previous year.

As recently as 2004, American embarkations accounted for 77 percent of all cruises. By last year their shares had fallen to 69 percent as business grew in Europe.

Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, re-christened its Pride of Hawaii as the Norwegian Jade and now sails it year-round in Europe. The Pride's departure and that of sister ship Pride of Aloha, which moved from Hawaii to Miami, are being blamed for Honolulu's 59 percent drop in embarkations, while cruise traffic from Miami rose 11 percent. NCL's only ship in Hawaii now is the Pride of America.

But the decline in American cruises didn't keep overall traffic or revenue from growing between 2007 and 2008. Last year 13.05 million people worldwide vacationed on one of the giant, seafaring ships — a 4 percent increase. Gross revenue rose 9 percent to $24.88 billion, and total spending in the U.S. rose 2 percent to $19 billion, though that was the smallest hike in the report's history.

“;In 2008, considering all that's going on, we're reporting a 2 percent increase. There's a lot of businesses out there that would love to be reporting any increase,”; said Bob Sharak, executive vice president of the Cruise Lines International Association. “;The biggest point to take away is when other people are suffering greatly, we're able to show an increase.”;

American passenger traffic increased each of the previous few years, though by shrinking percentages, and finally turned negative in 2008. About 9.3 million passengers took cruises originating in the U.S. in 2008, a 1.7 percent decline.

In addition to Honolulu's traffic loss, American cruising took a hit from Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas, where embarkations fell 28 percent. And New Orleans lost 30.6 percent of its embarkations. Florida, which accounts for 57 percent of all cruise ship departures, saw a 2.7 percent increase to 5.1 million.