The number of British cruise ship passengers fell short of industry forecasts by 19,000 last year although river cruises increased their popularity.

An additional 1,000 people took an ocean cruise in 2012 against the previous year, bringing the total up to just over 1.7 million – just short of the 1.72 million forecast by the Passenger Shipping Association four months ago.

The PSA said today (Tuesday) that the figure was “indicative of the loyalty of cruise passengers, given the challenging nature of the year which opened with the Concordia tragedy and saw the UK economy dip back into recession”.

However, cruise continues to account for one in every eight of all overseas package holidays, the trade body pointed out.

One bright spot was a 10% rise to 962,000 in the number of people opting to join their cruise from a UK port.

River cruise growth continued to outstrip the increase in the numbers taking ocean cruises with a 14% increase to 130,000, with the Nile being most popular followed by the Rhine/Moselle and the Danube.

Ongoing growth was also seen in ultra luxury cruising with a year-on-year rise of 10% or 2,581 passengers. This meant 1.7% of all cruises booked in 2012 came in this sector.

The number of British passengers who took more than one cruise in 2012 increased by 12 percentage points to 54% while a record 374,220 booked three or more cruises within the year.

Value for money was the main reason for Britons choosing their last cruise holiday.

But when it comes to the appeal of a cruise in general, itinerary and destination topped the list (cited by 70% of passengers surveyed) for the fourth consecutive year.

The most popular overall cruise destination continued to be the Mediterranean, attracting 698,000 British passengers, while there was a 29% surge in interest in cruising to Northern Europe to give a figure of 443,000.

This was fuelled by almost 200,000 passengers visiting the Norwegian fjords or 44.5% of the total.

There was a rise in people from the south of the UK booking cruises, with the proportion up to 24% from 14% in 2006, according to the PSA. Scotland produced 187,000 passengers, Wales 102,000 and Northern Ireland 34,000.

PSA director Bill Gibbons, said: “The past year was an impressive one for the UK cruise industry, especially in view of the combination of challenges the year presented.

“The increase in passenger figures bears testament to the value and diversity that cruising represents and the positive experiences that bring passengers back time and time again.”

He added: “We feel 2012’s record results for British ports are particularly remarkable and we very much look forward to seeing UK ports achieve the million mark in 2013, and the associated economic benefits that this will bring to the country.”