The value of the cruise sector to the UK grew by 3.7% to almost £2.5 billion last year, according to figures released today (Tuesday).

The sector’s contribution to the economies of Europe was also up, by 3.4% to £13.15 billion, with the UK economy one of the top three recipients, after Italy and Germany.

The overall contribution of the cruise industry, including indirect expenditure, to the European economy grew 2.9% to £32.19 billion.

The increase came despite the industry being hit by the Costa Concordia accident off the coast of Italy in January last year

Cruise Lines International Association figures for 2012 show that the UK also remains Europe’s biggest cruise market with a total share of passenger numbers of 27.7%, during which time more than 1.7 million British holidaymakers took a cruise.

European passenger numbers reached 6.1 million and the global figure was 20.9 million. Southampton was Europe’s largest embarkation and disembarkation port last year, handling more than 1.5 million passengers

More than 11,000 jobs across the southeast of England are supported by the port and each cruise ship turnaround is estimated to contribute around £2.5 million to the local economy.

The Hampshire port is one of 19 in the UK and Ireland that now offer cruise ship departures.

The number of British jobs supported by the cruise industry continued to grow last year with 66,059 people employed – an increase of 2,000 jobs or 3.5%, and now representing 20% of the total number of jobs the industry provides Europe-wide.

Clia Europe chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio said: “Despite the global economic crisis, the cruising industry continues to show steady growth.

“The number of people who chose a cruise holiday in Europe has more than doubled in the past decade to over 5.7 million; the sector attracted almost a million passengers from outside Europe.

“As a result it generates employment for more than 326,000 people across Europe, up from 315,500 last year. These impressive figures clearly show the social and economic importance of the cruise sector to Europe as a whole.”

Clia UK and Ireland director Andy Harmer said: “These figures demonstrate the continued and growing strength of the British cruise market. They highlight the confidence that consumers have in the quality, value, high service standards and levels of safety provided on a cruise holiday.

“The cruise industry is a significant growth vehicle for the UK economy, contributing more in expenditure and jobs each year, despite the on-going economic challenges in this country and the wider European marketplace.”

Clia president and chief executive Christine Duffy said: “Europe and the UK are essential part of the vibrant, dynamic and growing global industry that is today’s cruise industry.

“Over 20 million passengers each year enjoy cruising, which is one of the safest, most affordable and memorable vacation experiences available today.”

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, David Dingle, chief executive of Carnival UK, said: “Over recent years cruising has become much more popular.

“We have a fantastic value proposition – we are really good value for money.”

He said cruising now attracted “all types of people” and that by building bigger ships the industry was becoming more economically efficient.