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Cruising's rapid growth attracting critics

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Apr 29 (Reuters) Cheaper deals, bigger ships and more destinations have elevated cruising from the preserve of the elderly and sedate into a mass market.

The demand for fully catered holidays on what are effectively floating holiday camps has turned cruising into the tourism industry's fastest-growing sector.

But not everybody is happy at the prospect of 1.25 million British passengers taking to the waves this year.

Like the aircraft industry, the expansion of both demand and the craft being built to meet it are drawing criticism from the ecological and fair-tourism lobbies.

Huge ships not only mean big profits, they bring greater problems with pollution and present daunting logistical problems of dealing with so many people in what in many cases are relatively small destination ports.

But for now the industry is in thrall to the creed that big is beautiful.

It has worked hard to shake off lingering stereotypes of blue-rinse hairdos and onboard bingo.

Marketing to the widest possible consumer base appears to be working: according to the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) the British cruise market could reach 1.5 million passengers by 2008, a 50 per cent hike from 2004 figures.

Back in 1996 just 416,000 Britons went on a cruise.

''Not only is cruising the fastest growing sector in the travel industry, but the British market is the second largest in the world after the United States,'' said Sean Tipton at the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

He said the sector has diversified to such an extent there are now cruise lines to cater to the tastes, age and budget of most holidaymakers.

Cruise analyst Tony Peisley said the industry has been mainstream for decades.

''Cruising is really just another package holiday and has been since the 1970s ... it really is the most inclusive of inclusive holidays,'' he told Reuters.

Only about 3-4 per cent of the global cruise market could be genuinely regarded as truly upmarket, he added.

''The vast majority of cruise liners are essentially holiday resorts which just happen to be moving from port to port.'' CRUISING FOR ALL Bill Gibbons, director of the PSA trade body, said the development of ever-larger ships has brought economies of scale that have reduced prices to the level at which they can compete with many land-based holidays.

More Reuters SHB BST0932

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