Budget deals boost the cruise industry

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The Independent Online
Passengers who left Gatwick last night to join an Airtours ship in Tenerife have little in common those evacuated from the Royal Viking Sun. But each end of the cruise spectrum, from budget to "five-star plus", provides evidence of a cruising boom.

The business last year expanded by more than 25 per cent in passenger numbers to 350,000. One reason is the entry of Airtours, bringing low- price, high-volume expertise to a sector previously the preserve of the wealthy. It began Mediterranean cruises a year ago and, despite some initial hiccups, has been a success. Airtours passengers visiting the Canaries and Morocco over Easter have paid pounds 479 each, compared to pounds 21,500 for a world cruise on Royal Viking Sun. A much larger company, the US- based Carnival Cruise Line, has taken a substantial holding in Airtours.

Britain's biggest tour operator, Thomson, is about to enter the cruise market with a programme mirroring Airtours' approach in Europe. The Disney Corporation has moved in too.