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Cruise passengers seen increasing in 2017 as millennials jump on board

The number of global cruise passengers is set to rise again in 2017 after several years of consecutive growth, according to the largest industry trade group.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released its 2017 outlook on Thursday, estimating 25.3 million passengers will set sail next year, up from 24.2 million expected to travel in 2016. The forecast shows the robust ramp-up in voyagers since 2007 when only 15.8 million traveled.

Jaime Katz, equity analyst at Morningstar, sees 2017 as providing the industry with the ability to increase prices as the number of passenger rises.

"China, the recent growth engine for demand, remains underpenetrated, and should remain accretive, and the North American consumer remains healthy thanks to the wealth effect (equity markets and home prices remain elevated supporting consumer willingness to spend)," she said in an email to CNBC.

"In our opinion, if geopolitical events in Europe remain at bay, the 2017 summer season abroad still has the opportunity to be successful.The real risks come from an economic slowdown, geopolitical events and the strengthening of the dollar," she concluded.

The CLIA also reported 26 new vessels are scheduled to debut in 2017, for a total investment just shy of $7 billion.

Cruise hotspots

Source: Celebrity Cruises

North America President of privately owned MSC Cruises,Roberto Fusaro says the Caribbean, which currently accounts for 34 percent of activity, should remain the most popular destination.

"Outside of the Caribbean however, there is a growing interest in Northern Europe and the Emirates region as new cities and destinations rise in popularity and become available to cruisers."

Within the Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line highlighted two locations to watch in 2017.

"Amber Cove, Dominican Republic is a newly opened cruise port that is a gateway to the beautiful northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Until its opening, cruise ships had not called on this lush mountain-esque northern coast in decades," the company said to CNBC via email.

"Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands is a world-renowned snorkeling, scuba diving, watersports and beach-laden jewel. There is only one cruise ship dock in all of the Turks & Caicos and this small island continues to be one of the most popular ports on our itineraries since the facility opened a handful of years ago," the company said.

Trends to watch

Chel Beeson | Getty Images

Anticipating the eight largest trends for 2017, the CLIA highlighted rising interest from millennials and generation X travelers, increased use of travel agents and more demand for river cruises as the top three to watch. Regarding the first trend, according to a recent survey reported by the CLIA, these younger cohorts now rate cruise travel as better than land-based vacations, all-inclusive resorts, tours, vacation house rentals, or camping.

The biggest trend observed by MSC Cruises' Fusaro is the demand to experience local cuisine at the ports travelers visit.

"More so than ever food is playing a role in tourism and travel experiences worldwide. As food plays a unique role within every culture, travelers are looking for experiences that expose them to exciting culinary offerings and connect them to local culture. We anticipate this continuing to drive consumer travels in 2017," he explained.

Meantime, Carnival Cruise Lines said travelers were increasingly looking for vacations that could be enjoyed with loved ones.

"We are hearing loud and clear from people that they are valuing vacation experiences more than ever as an opportunity to spend truly meaningful down time with family and friends and they want to be able to have shared experiences that are genuinely fun and memorable," said the spokesperson.

"The emphasis here is on things traveling parties with different ages and interests can enjoy together versus the kids going to camp while mom and dad lay on sun loungers," she added.

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