By Humphrey Carter

WHILE there may be uncertainty surrounding land-based tourism in Spain and the Balearics (see page 4) this year, it appears that the cruise market is continuing to enjoy steady growth.

Figures released yesterday by the Spanish Port Authority reveal that nearly all of Spain's cruise ports handled an increase in liners and passengers last year with Barcelona, the busiest port, breaking the two million passenger mark.

The Balearics was the second busiest cruise destination with the main ports, in particular Palma, handling over 1.3 million cruise passengers, nearly eight percent more than during 2007.

In fact, according to the Port Authority annual cruise report, the Mediterranean ports of Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia and the Balearics handled a total of 4.1 million cruise passengers last year, 70 percent of the country's total 5'883'383 passengers.

The 17 percent increase in cruise passengers recorded in Spain last year complies with cruise industry forecasts and, according to the Port Authority, establishes Spain as one of the most popular cruise destinations in Europe.

The revolution the cruise industry has experienced since the start of the decade with cruise holidays becoming more attractive and affordable and liners catering for a much wider and diverse market, the number of people going on cruise holidays, especially in Britain, has continued to rise.

Recent cruise industry research carried out in the United Kingdom has discovered that significantly more Britons are planning to go on a cruise holiday this year and the majority of them will be opting for one of the many pocket-friendly Mediterranean cruises.

By 2012, over two million Britons will go on a cruise every year.