A record 6.139 million Europeans booked a cruise in 2012 – a doubling of numbers in eight years, new figures show.

The long term trend shows strong growth with a five-year annual average European passenger growth of 8%, according to Cruise Lines International Association Europe.

A noticeable trend was increased popularity in ‘cool water’ cruising in Northern Europe, which 10% growth from 1.216 million to 1.333 million passengers.

Four out of five Europeans chose to cruise in Europe, with the most popular destination the Mediterranean, which saw 3.5 million passengers, according to figures realsed at the 29th annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference.

The Europe-wide statistics follow UK figures which showed an increase of 1,000 to more than 1.7 million last year over 2011.

This means that the UK still leads as the main source market while Germany grew by 11% to take 25% of the European market share.

Italy and Spain suffered a 9% and 18% drop respectively, reflecting the deteriorating economic situation in both countries. However, the five-year trend in every market remains positive, Clia said. France grew by 9%.

Clia Europe chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio said: “2012 was a strong year for the European cruise industry, especially in view of the challenges the year presented.

“The doubling in the number of Europeans booking a cruise in the past eight years reflects the fact that the European cruise industry provides quality, innovation, value and great range of choice.

“We very much look forward to seeing that growth continue this year, and the associated economic benefits that this will bring to Europe.”

Secretary general Rob Ashdown added: “2012 was a record-breaking year for the cruise industry in Europe, which is contributing significantly to helping Europe maintain its position as one of the world’s top tourism destinations.

“It is one of the few sectors in Europe currently generating growth and the cruise industry generates employment for more than 315,000 people across Europe, from the shipyards and marine equipment producers to employment in ports and coastal communities.

“The continuing economic fragility in Europe continues to present challenges, but we are cautiously optimistic that the cruise industry will continue to grow in 2013.”