A record 25 million passengers are expected to set sail on cruises next year, continuing a steady growth in the industry over the past decade.

The number of people taking cruise vacations globally has risen from 15.8 million in 2007, according to statistics from the Cruise Lines International Association.

The cruise industry trade association, in its annual State of the Cruise Industry Outlook, indicates continued growth in cruise travel and significant investment in the industry in 2017.

The Cayman Islands’ likely share of that growing market continues to be a source of debate, with supporters of the planned new cruise berthing terminal insisting the island will miss out if it does not follow through with plans for piers in George Town harbor.

Cayman’s final cruise figures for 2016 are still being collated, but the figures through November were tracking 3 percent higher than the previous year, putting the islands on course for its best year since 2006.

Despite that positive picture, supporters of the planned cruise pier development in George Town harbor insist the good times will not last without proper berthing facilities.

Robert Hamaty, owner of Tortuga Rum and founder of the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, said, “We need to get these piers built because the industry is growing, investment is increasing and all these new ships will be sailing by. The larger ships is where all the investment is going and if we are not careful, Cayman will be the islands that these ships forgot.”

Cruise Lines International Association reports that cruise lines are scheduled to debut 26 new ocean, river and specialty ships in 2017 for a total investment of more than $6.8 billion in new vessels worldwide.

From 2017 to 2026, the industry is expected to introduce a total of 97 new cruise ships totaling an estimated investment of $53 billion through 2026, though a large proportion of that investment is expected to be focussed on the emerging Chinese market.

“The cruise industry is responding to global demand and we are highly encouraged by both the short-term and long-term outlook,” Cindy D’Aoust, president of the Cruise Lines International Association, said in a media statement.

“From technological advancements and deployment of new ships to new ports and destinations around the world, the industry continues to respond to desires of today’s travelers, resulting in steady growth and strong economic impact around the world.”

Cruise industry expenditures generated $117 billion in total output worldwide, supporting 956,597 full-time equivalent employees who earned $38 billion in income in 2015, according to the report.

Highlighting likely trends for 2017, the industry report predicts greater interest in cruises from a younger generation, demand for celebrity chefs and expedition cruises.

Potentially impacting Cayman is the growth in popularity of private islands, owned or leased by the cruise lines. “As more cruise lines introduce private island destinations, travellers are responding and booking these itineraries. In 2017, cruise lines offer ports on a total of seven private islands,” the report notes.

Several of those are in the Caribbean region, including Royal Caribbean’s 260-acre private beach resort, Labadee, on Haiti’s north coast.

The U.S. remains by far the biggest source of cruise passengers worldwide, with the report indicating that 11.28 million of the 25 million cruisers taking to the seas next year will be from the United States. Germany is next with 1.8 million, then the U.K. 1.6 million and Australia 1.1 million.

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