The average age of cruise passengers has gone up by two years in the last decade even though increasing numbers of under 26-year-olds are now taking cruise holidays.

Figures from the Passenger Shipping Association, revealed at a Chartered Institute of Marketing debate on the cruise market, show the average age of a cruise passenger last year was 54.3 years, compared with 52.4 in 1997.

Meanwhile, the percentage of cruise passengers under the age of 26 has gone up from 3% in 1997 to 8% in 2006.

Cruiselines argued the attitude of passengers was often more relevant than their age, while the fact many holidaymakers were repeat customers meant the age would naturally increase each year.

They admitted the shoulder season remained more popular with older people because it was outside school holidays, while the launch of more world cruises of 80 to 100 days tended to attract older customers based on time and disposable income.

Complete Cruise Solution head of sales Giles Hawke said: “It’s about attitude rather than pure age. The attitudes of the older generation have completely changed – they want livelier holidays.”

Its Ocean Village brand has an average age of 43, while P&O’s Ventura has an average age of 49 for next year’s European cruises. Royal Caribbean International has an average customer age of 48.

Roger Allard, chairman of All Leisure Group, which owns brands Voyages of Discovery and Discover Egypt, said passengers tended to be repeat customers.

“Once people start cruising, they carry on sailing with us so each year they are getting older,” he said.