PhoCusWright, a travel market research firm, said in a November report the cruise industry grew in 2012, but at a slower pace than the 10% rate of 2010 and the 7% rate of 2011.

The firm said revenue would rise only 4% in 2012 “as the challenge of recent years — the U.S. recession, the European financial crisis, and high airfares — remain unresolved and have been compounded by the worst shipwreck in recent memory.” High airfares depress cruising because many passengers fly to their ports of embarkation.

PhoCusWright’s growth forecast for 2013 and 2014 are better: 6% and 7%, respectively.

Associated Press

Ship shape

Cruise watchers looking back at the industry’s past year say the Concordia disaster affected everything from prices to safety drills to first-time cruisers, but bookings appear to be picking up as the 2013 cruise booking season gets under way.

The first three months of each year are known as “wave season,” a period when many cruisers book trips as they plan ahead for summer vacations. The Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people just as last year’s wave season began. Experts have blamed the captain for the disaster, saying he took the ship off course in a stunt. The wrecked ship is still lying on its side in waters off Italy.

“In hindsight the market took a bigger hit than anticipated,” said Michael Driscoll, editor of the newsletter Cruise Week. He noted that first-time business from people taking their first-ever cruises “was off in particular.”

The lowered demand led to a decline in prices because cruise lines are loathe to sail a ship without filling every room, so they’ll drop prices until the ship is at capacity.

Driscoll said a gradual recovery for the cruise industry began to emerge in the fourth quarter of 2012, and now, said Driscoll, a year after the Concordia disaster, “top travel agents are reporting a surprisingly strong winter season bookings for sailings that depart in later 2013, not great, but good.”

Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, said “we’re definitely seeing everything rebounding. I see advertising is going back to appeal to first-time cruisers. And we’re seeing more fresh sign-ups” on CruiseCritic.com.