MSC Cruises breaks from the past

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC’s executive chairman

For a ship that is designed to “follow the sun” MSC Seaview was unfortunate to find herself under cloudy skies and persistent rain for the traditional coin ceremony marking the latest stage of construction.

But as Giuseppe Bono, president of shipbuilder Fincantieri, told MSC’s executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, Italian superstition has it that when it rains on a bride’s wedding day, she will have good luck. “You have a lucky ship,” he said.

The ceremony provided the opportunity for MSC Cruises to highlight a €9 billion investment programme that will see the Geneva-based company launch 11 new ships between now and 2026, doubling the size of the fleet and almost tripling passenger capacity to more than five million a year.

The expansion, and the planned arrival of MSC Magnifica in the UK, mark a significant change in approach to the British market. There’s a new UK & Ireland managing director in Antonio Paradiso, a new director of sales in Steve Williams (ex-Royal Caribbean) and a new HQ, in Uxbridge instead of central London.

Chief executive Gianni Onorato has ambitious plans to make UK travel agents think MSC first for ex-UK itineraries as well as fly-cruises to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Arabian Gulf.

He said the days when the UK was thought of only as a tactical market – effectively a dumping ground with cabins sold off at rock-bottom fares to fill the ships – are over.

“We were not the right price,” he told Cruise Trade News. “We need to break with the legacy of the past and we plan to change the perception, with more solid, consistent pricing.”

Seaview’s identical twin, the 5,197-passenger MSC Seaside, will be delivered on November 30 and christened in her homeport of Miami, from where she will sail year-round to the Caribbean. In June this year, the 5,700-passenger MSC Meraviglia, built in France to another new design, will be christened in Le Havre.

From 2019, MSC Magnifica will sail a full season from Southampton. Paradiso said: “The new ships represent an increase in capacity that will benefit the UK market. Seaside has seen a 46% increase in sales for the same itinerary compared to last year. Overall we are seeing a 69% year-on-year increase in the Caribbean, helped by our charter flights on Virgin Atlantic. In the Mediterranean, Meraviglia is currently our most booked ship.”

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