The North American cruise line industry is fueling the economy and providing a significant economic boost to airlines that ferry cruise passengers to embarkation points.

In 2008, the gross economic effect on the U.S. of the cruise industry was $40.2 billion, a 6% increase from 2007, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in its latest report: The Contribution of the North American Cruise Industry to the U.S. Economy in 2008.

Nearly 13 million passengers took a cruise vacation last year globally, which was up 4% from the year before, while CLIA-member ships carried 9 million passengers from U.S. ports alone.

Florida remains the center of cruising in the U.S., and accounts for 57% of all U.S. embarkations. Miami is by far the top port in the nation, followed by Port Canaveral and Port Everglades in Florida, and Los Angeles, New York and Galveston, Texas.

CLIA’s report says that 60% of the $40 billion gross output affects seven main industries, two of which are airlines and travel services. It attributed $2.1 billion directly to airline transportation for 2008, and 6,942 jobs in the aviation industry. Travel services, which includes travel agents, ground transportation services and U.S.-based shore excursions, benefited to the tune of $4.2 billion and 54,442 jobs, according to the report.

However, the growth in capacity has decelerated for three consecutive years.
Last year, eight new ships were added to the fleet for a total addition of only two as six were sold or redeployed from the North American market. For example, from 2005 to 2006, the number of ships increased by six, and from 2006 to 2007, it went up by eight. Also, the cruising industry continues to increase its use of Caribbean ports for embarkation points, which is cutting back on passengers leaving from U.S. ports. “As a result, the United States not only continued to experience a decline in its share of global cruise activity but experienced an actual decline in the number of passengers embarking from U.S. ports,” the report said. “During 2008, passenger embarkations at U.S. ports totaled nearly 8.96 million, a 2.4% decline from 2007 and a 69% share of global embarkations.” That compares with 77% of global embarkations in 2004.

Airlines flying to Miami in 2008 benefited from an 11.4% increase in embarkations (2.1 million cruise passengers), while embarkations in Florida overall were up by 133,000 last year from Miami, Port Everglades and Tampa, which was partially offset by losses from Port Canaveral and Jacksonville. The growth ports in 2008 in terms of embarkations, in addition to Miami, were Port Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., up 142.4%; San Diego, up 16.4%; Seattle, up 12.7%; and Mobile, Ala., up 12.3%.