BERLIN, March 7 (Reuters) - The freezing weather that swept the United States in the first two months of the year led to a surge in cruise bookings as winter-weary holidaymakers headed south to warmer climes.
"Many companies have recorded their best booking month ever in January," Christine Duffy, head of trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told Reuters at the ITB travel trade fair in Berlin.
Large parts of the United States have been gripped by freezing temperatures and snow storms since the start of the year as a series of Arctic weather systems swept the country.
Overall, Duffy said the cruise industry expected another year of growth this year, reiterating an outlook for passenger numbers to increase to 21.7 million from 21.3 million in 2013.
"Economic conditions have gotten better in the U.S., Europe is recovering too," said Duffy, whose organisation represents companies like Carnival around the globe.
In the United States, consumer sentiment edged up in February even as concerns about the extreme weather persisted, and the euro zone's economic recovery progressed, albeit slowly.
But while demand for cruise ships taking tourists across the high seas boomed, river cruise operators were hit by a drop in bookings in 2013 partly due to political turmoil in Egypt, prompting some to seek growth elsewhere.
"River cruises had less revenue last year than in previous years, with the Nile cruises being very important for the industry," CLIA's Duffy said.
"But there are new markets for river cruising and we are already seeing an expansion in Asian rivers," she said.
French river cruise operator Rivages du Monde is seeing strong demand for its luxury cruises on the Mekong river in southern Vietnam and Cambodia, helping to offset waning interest in Volga river cruises amid tension between Russia and Ukraine, sales representative Sebastian Durand told Reuters.