Updated on January 30, 2024 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

Water-based activities are a popular leisure pursuit worldwide, and canal boat tours are one of them. In nations where canals or rivers flow through cities, it might be considered an environmentally benign recreational activity. Canal and river-based activities offer stunning scenery, recreational opportunities, heritage experiences, and connections to the natural environment, all of which can improve people’s well-being.

The terrain of Europe affords a vast network of natural waterways, which are linked by countless canals. Several European countries, particularly France, constructed numerous short canals connected to rivers. Some countries, such as Germany, concentrated on the construction of huge canals that connected to their rivers.

Canal Boat Tourism

Canal boating is classified as a subcategory of leisure boat tourism. Single-day boating or short voyages around canals on small watercraft are considered canal boat tourism. It is regarded as a specialised type of ocean and sea cruise tourism. Canal boat tours, according to this definition, operate over small distances with small vessels for shorter domestic trading. In 1828, Dayton hosted the first canal boat launch. People could now travel to Cincinnati in twenty hours, which was a record at that time.

The cruise industry has done extensive research on passenger behaviour. Although ‘water-based leisure activities’ play an important part in human life. Scholars have paid little attention to psychosocial analysis, which investigates the marketing component of ‘canal boat trips’. Following are some common means of travelling on various types of vessels capable of long-distance sailing.

  • Cruise ships
  • Ocean liner
  • Freighter travel
  • Cruising on small crafts
  • Ferries
  • Speedboat

Worldwide Boat and Cruise Travel Statistics (From India to the US and the UK)

  1. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Ministry of Statistics of India, about 821,700 overseas passengers arrive, and 781,000 overseas passengers depart from the country.
  2. From the total number of arrivals and departures in India, about 12.3% (101,300) arrived and 13.8% (108,000) departed by sea.
  3. According to the CLIA Cruise Forecast (December 2022), the global cruise passenger volume is forecast to grow by 19% from 2021 to 2022, reaching 31.5 million passengers.
  4. According to the CLIA State of the Cruise Industry Report (January 2023), the global cruise passenger volume is projected to grow by 42% from 2022 to 2023, reaching 44.8 million passengers.
  5. Despite the sharp annual increase, the number of North American cruise guests remained below pre-pandemic levels, reaching nearly 12.6 million in 2022. The volume of cruise passengers sourced from North America increased by 19% from 2021 to 2022, which was the highest growth rate among all source regions.
  6. the Caribbean was the leading ocean cruise destination worldwide from 2019 to 2022, with over 8.5 million passengers in 2022
  7. When compared to the significant rises of the past, CLIA noted only moderate growth across Asia and China.
  8. The year-wise boat travel statistics increased from the year 2009 to 2020 worldwide (Figure 1).
  9. The travelling rate of the number of people in millions is increasing with each passing year, but suddenly, it broke down in 2020.
  10. The global cruise industry was impacted badly by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which hampered travel and tourism due to emergency measures implemented around the world to stop the virus from spreading.
  11. The number of ocean cruise passengers worldwide in that year was 5.8 million, down from nearly 30 million in 2019
  12. In 2022, there was a notable increase in the worldwide ocean cruise passenger count compared to the previous year, marking a recovery from the substantial drop experienced during the initial years of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even with this significant annual rise, the total number of global cruise passengers in 2022 was still lower than it was before the pandemic, amounting to 20.4 million. Projections indicate that this figure will surpass its 2019 peak and reach 31.5 million in 2023, with a forecast of 39.5 million in 2027. (Figure 1).

Number of ocean cruise passengers worldwide from 2009 to 2027
Figure 1: Number of ocean cruise passengers worldwide from 2009 to 2020(in millions)

  1. In 2022, North America was the leading source market for the global cruise industry, with around 12.6 million passengers. Western Europe followed with roughly 5.4 million passengers
  2. The region-wise passenger travel volume indicates that most of the travellers were observed in North America (Figure 2).
  3. Figure 2 shows that North America was the leading source market for the global cruise industry in all four years, followed by Western Europe and Asia. However, the passenger volume of all regions dropped significantly in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recovered gradually in 2021 and 2022. The passenger volume of North America in 2022 was still lower than that of 2019, while the other regions reached or exceeded their 2019 levels.

Passenger Volume (Region wise)

Figure 2: Passenger Volume (Region wise)

  1. Cruises visit practically every area of the globe, from local coastal sites to far-flung destinations like Antarctica.
  2. Some cruises are only a few days long, while others might last weeks or months as they travel across oceans or even the globe.
  3. The Caribbean, Asia, and the Mediterranean were among the most popular cruise destinations.
  4. Other popular locations were Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Passengers' Volume Toward Travel Destination

Figure 3: Passengers’ Volume Toward Travel Destination

  1. Recreational boating is considered as a recreational usage of a boat or the leisurely activity of travelling by boat in the United Kingdom.
  2. In 2018, 3.9 million adults in the UK took part in boating activity, accounting for 7.3% of the population.
  3. With over 20,000 miles of shoreline, as well as numerous rivers, lakes, and canals, the United Kingdom has some stunning waterways.
  4. The tourists go aboard a boat and discover the history and beauty of the country.
  5. From the Scottish Highlands to the Cornish coast, most favourite boat trips are Canterbury River Tours, city cruises to London, Crannog Cruises Scotland, Cruise Loch Ness, Dartmouth river cruise, Falcon boats, Farne Island boat trips, Mersey ferries Liverpool, Needles pleasure cruise, Oxford river cruise, Sabrina boat trips, Titanic boat tours, and York city cruises.
  6. The Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda were the leading ocean cruise destinations worldwide in 2022, with roughly 9 million passengers. Central and Western Mediterranean destinations followed with 2.6 million passengers
  7. If we observe the water travel statistics of the United Kingdom (UK) then it says the overall number of foreign short sea passengers (ferry routes) fell by 63% to 6.9 million, while cruise passengers fell by 95% to 107,000 (comparing 2019 to 2020 statistics; Figure 4).
  8. According to the web search results, the overall number of foreign short sea passengers (ferry routes) in the UK was 5.6 million in 2021, a decrease of 21% from 2019.
  9. The number of cruise passengers in the UK fell by 80% to 0.4 million in 2020 and remained at the same level in 2021.
  10. The cruise industry had already halted operations when the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 (figure 4). UK domestic and international sea passengers

Figure 4: UK domestic and international sea passengers

  1. The overall number of marine passengers on domestic routes in the UK was 29.8 million in 2021, an increase of 44% from 2020, but still lower than the pre-pandemic level of 42 million in 2019.
  2. The number of passengers in river ferries increased by 31% from 2020 to 2021 but remained 9% less than the numbers in 2019.
  3. The number of inter-island travellers in the UK was 2.4 million in 2021, an increase of 23% from 2020, but still lower than the pre-pandemic level of 2.9 million in 2019.
  4. The domestic sea crossings in the UK have dropped by 33% from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic1. However, they have increased by 33% from 2020 to 2021 and were 6% more than in 2019.
  5. The number of short sea passengers on international routes in the UK was 5.4 million in 2021, a decrease of 22% from 2020. This follows a gradually declining trend in international sea passengers from 2010 to 2019 and a sharp decrease from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trend has now shifted upwards.

UK passenger’s short sea travel from 2019 to 2022

Figure 5: UK passenger’s short sea travel from 2019 to 2022

  1. Boating is a widely popular recreational activity in the United States, with over 87 million individuals participating each year.
  2. Travel opportunities like a paddle-wheel cruise down the Mississippi River, which stops at historic sites like St. Louis, Missouri, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana, are becoming increasingly popular.
  3. City tours are also available in coastal cities, such as San Francisco and New York, for whale viewing.
  4. According to CLIA statistics, almost one in four 24% of the total US population has cruised at some point in their lives and 11% in the past three years
  5. This means that there are still many potential first-time cruisers in the US market.
  6. Nearly every territory in the United States has boating opportunities, i.e., water buses and ferries can transport tourists from one location to another or simply provide a scenic tour of the area.
  7. Ferries are substantially larger and can transport vehicles as well as passengers to and from stations.
  8. The following are popular ferry routes in the United States:
      • Marine Highway System of Alaska
      • Staten Island Ferry
      • Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry
      • Cape May-Lewes Ferry
      • Washington State Ferries – Seattle to Bremerton
      • New Orleans Ferry – Canal Street to Algiers Point
      • Golden Gate Ferry – San Francisco to Sausalito
      • Steamship Authority – Hyannis to Nantucket

Cruise Industry Revenue

  1. In 2021, the cruise industry revenue worldwide recovered slightly to 10.4 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 86% from 2020, as some cruise lines resumed operations with limited capacity and enhanced safety measures.
  2. In 2022, the cruise industry revenue worldwide rose further to 18.8 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 81% from 2021, as more cruise destinations reopened and more passengers returned to the sea.
  3. In 2023, the cruise industry revenue worldwide is projected to reach 26.7 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 42% from 2022, and close to the pre-pandemic level.
  4. In 2024, the cruise industry revenue worldwide is forecast to surpass the pre-pandemic level and reach 31.5 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 18% from 2023.
  5. With its lengthy beaches and proximity to several surrounding ports in the beautiful Caribbean Sea, the United States leads the globe in cruise income.
  6. Before the epidemic, revenue from the cruise industry in the United States was more than four times that of Germany, the second largest market.
  7. The United States remained the market leader in 2023, with revenue of $21.1 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 81% from the previous year.

Leading Cruise Companies

  1. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and Carnival Corporation & plc, both headquartered in the United States, are two of the most well-known cruise businesses.
  2. The Carnival Corporation & plc’s global revenue in 2023 is 26.7 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 42% from 2022.
  3. In 2021, Carnival accounted for about half of the global cruise business, while Royal Caribbean accounted for a quarter of the global market.
  4. Royal Caribbean’s global revenue in 2023 was $13.4 billion to $13.7 billion. The exact figure will be confirmed when they release their full-year financial report, likely sometime in February or March 2024.
  5. This revenue represents a significant increase compared to 2022 ($8.84 billion) and 2021 ($1.53 billion), indicating a strong recovery post-pandemic.
  6. Even though Royal Caribbean Cruises operates some of the world’s largest cruise ships, Carnival Corporation remains the world’s largest cruise operator by revenue.


Mehran, J., Olya, H. G., Han, H., & Kapuscinski, G. (2020). Determinants of canal boat tour participant behaviours: An explanatory mixed-method approach. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 37(1), 112-127.


Wilkie, F. (2015). ‘A place without a place’: Boat Travel. In Performance, Transport and Mobility (pp. 120-151). Palgrave Macmillan, London.









Sea passenger statistics: International sea passengers 2022 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)



Erfurt-Cooper, P. (2009). European waterways as a source of leisure and recreation. River tourism, 95-116.