The statistics were released by the association on Monday, where it also highlighted total nights spent on river cruises by UK holidaymakers increased 24% compared with 2016.
European river cruises were the driving force behind the growth, accounting for almost 90% of bookings with the Rhine and Danube leading the way, Clia said.
However it was eastern and southern Europe which saw the biggest growth, with cruises on the Douro in Portugal up 85% while the Russian waterways saw a 70% increase in river cruise UK guest numbers.
Outside Europe, the Mekong, Irawaddy and Nile accounted for the bulk of passengers – with the latter seeing a 14% growth in 2017 compared with the previous year. Meanwhile Indian rivers such as the Ganges and Brahmaputra saw a 27% rise in British guests.
Speaking at the launch of the new river figures, Giles Hawke, representative of the UK and Ireland Clia executive committee said he believed interest in river cruising would only continue to grow.
“When you compare the number of Brits taking a river cruise in 2017 compared with 2012 [around 130,000], the growth is massive,” he said. “It’s the first time we’ve achieved numbers well over 200,000 [2016 saw 174,400 UK passengers] and it’s all river lines who are driving that growth – we have eight new river ships set to launch in 2019 alone.”
Looking ahead to trends in the sector for the year ahead, Hawke acknowledged interest in Irrawaddy sailings was likely to suffer in the wake of negative headlines surrounding Myanmar and the Rohingya crisis. “I think we’ll see a decline in Irawaddy sailings for a year or so but it will come back,” he insisted.
He also noted the resurgence in Nile sailings and said he anticipated continued growth in Egypt.
Elsewhere Hawke added that anecdotally the average age of river cruisers was decreasing as more lines introduce family-focused sailings and active programmes. He referenced his own Avalon Waterways product, where customers are typically aged around 57/58, while those on the line’s Active Discovery sailings tend to be three years younger.
“I think we will see the average of river cruisers continue to come down as we see more families and a continued focus on health and wellbeing across the sector,” Hawke added.
Stuart Perl, UK managing director of AmaWaterways and chair of the Clia UK river cruise working group agreed: “Globally our average age is 63 but we are seeing it come down though I’m not sure we want to see it come down too much further,” he added.
Andy Harmer, Clia UK and Ireland director said: “With continued investment and innovation in this sector, and with new events and initiatives to engage the travel agent community, the growth in river cruising continues to be an important part of the overall cruise industry."