THE boss of cruise operator Royal Caribbean Cruises has underscored the importance of the UK to the business at a time when the challenges in the eurozone and the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident have contributed to a drop in traveller numbers.

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Royal Caribbean Cruises is the world’s second largest cruise company, operating brands including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Pullmantur, Azamara Club Cruises and CDF Croisieres de France as well as TUI Cruises through a 50% joint venture.

It operates 40 ships calling at 400 destinations across the world, with points of departure In the UK including Harwich and Southampton.

Adam Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Miami-based group, said Harwich was a vital part of its operation.

He warned that ongoing problems in the eurozone, falling consumer spending and the aftermath of the Costa Concordia sinking off the Italian coast in January had all contributed to a fall in bookings, which were rising by 5% before the accident.

However, he added that the early year dip was starting to show signs of improving and he was more optimistic about 2013 and he was expecting to see growth in South American and Asian markets, although challenges remained in Europe.

“This has obviously been a challenging year for the industry,” Mr Goldstein said. “It turned out to be not to be the kind of year we hoped for or expected in January. We are very grateful that the travel industry has stood by our business.”

Speaking as the company announced the addition of a new vessel, Celebrity Reflection, to its Celebrity Cruises luxury fleet, he added: “The UK remains the single most important cruise market in the world. Harwich has been and continues to be a main stay home port for us and it tends to be relatively more attractive for North Americans to come to as a launch port for the North European cruises and we are pleased with that.

“We’ve always been pleased to operate in and out of Harwich and we’ve got a good relationship with the community and the port. For the British market that’s also strong.”

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