MSC Cruises North America’s Roberto Fusaro

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MSC Meraviglia
MSC Cruises recently named Roberto Fusaro, long-time manager of its South America division, to be president of MSC Cruises North America after naming the current head, Rick Sasso, as chairman of the division. Fusaro spoke to senior editor Tom Stieghorst about his new position.

Q: Where were you born? Where did you go to school?A: I was born and raised in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. I majored in accounting and I worked on what in the U.S. would be a CPA. I worked at an accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, for a while. And then I transferred to Chicago with that firm and at the same time … I did my MBA at the University of Chicago.

Q: After Arthur Andersen, did you join the cruise industry?

A: Actually, after I left Chicago, I was working for a holding company in Milan. And Costa Crociere was looking for a CFO for a joint venture they were doing in South Florida [in 1993]. The company was called American Family Cruises. … This was my first experience with the cruise industry. I didn’t know about the industry then; I was just a finance guy. Unfortunately, the execution was very poor, so Costa decided to wind down the company after a few months, and they offered for me to go to Genoa [in Italy] to run the revenue-management department. So that’s the way I started my career in the cruise industry.

Q: When you went back to South America, what did you learn when you went to work for MSC?

A: In South America I learned a lot of things. The power of offering a good value to the market. The difficulty of dealing with some government bureaucracies. Perhaps the most instructive thing I learned in South America was the value of a private company. The difference in working for a company like MSC is having the cellphone [number] of the CEO and being able to call him at any time with a proposal, and after two or three questions he’ll give me the green light to go ahead. That was invaluable. I don’t think that MSC would have grown as it did in South America if we had to do a 10-page report to deploy more capacity. The decisions were made very quickly, and the company was very responsive to the needs of the market, and I think that’s what makes MSC different.

Q: What do you think is your strength as a manager?

A: I think my strength is in developing people and helping them to try to get to their full potential. I like to think of myself as a facilitator and company coach. One of my proudest achievements is that any time I left an executive position, my second-in-command took over.

Q: What will be the division of roles between you and Sasso as MSC grows?

A: There will be the usual division of chairman and president. Rick will look after government issues, and I will run the company on a day-to-day basis. I will have the luxury of having such a legend of the industry as a privileged adviser on major issues, but the decisions, good or bad, will be my responsibility.

Q: In the past, MSC has had some favorable terms for travel agents. What can they expect in this area?

A: We’re always going to do what’s best for the business, the company and the partners. We live by our travel agent partners and recognize that they are critical to our success. We won’t be able to get to 5 million passengers without their help. So we will continue to prioritize our partners and make it as easy as possible to work with us
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MSC Cruises changes course for Divina

By Tom Stieghorst

MSC Divina in the Caribbean Video

MSC Cruises said the MSC Divina, a ship that was scheduled to sail year-round from Miami, will be moved to the Mediterranean for summer 2015 before returning for the winter of 2015-16 in the Caribbean.

The ship began sailing from Miami in November and was the centerpiece of an MSC marketing campaign in North America. It will continue on current Caribbean itineraries for the rest of 2014 and the first four months of 2015.

In a statement, MSC Cruises USA President Rick Sasso said “customer surveys are showing an increased desire for North Americans to sail onboard MSC Divina in the Mediterranean.”

Industry-wide, Caribbean pricing has suffered from a glut of capacity this year, while demand for European cruises has been surprisingly strong, especially from North America. The weak economies in several European countries and high airfares led some cruise lines to reduce capacity in Europe this year.

MSC said the changes to Divina designed to bring it more in line with American tastes will remain in place for its summer in Europe. Upon returning in the fall of 2015 to the U.S., Divina will get some “surprise enhancements” for the North American market.

In a conference call with analysts earlier Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan mentioned the Divina move, saying its arrival in Miami was a significant addition to capacity in the Caribbean that would be removed next summer.
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MSC Cruises USA appoints marketing chief

By Jerry Limone
MSC Cruises USA has named Bonnie Levengood senior vice president of marketing, a new position.

Levengood will lead MSC’s consumer and trade marketing throughout North America.

Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, said Levengood “joins the company at an auspicious time to help grow and strengthen awareness of our brand to both consumers and our travel agent partners.”

MSC said Levengood’s appointment is a key part of MSC Cruises’ recently announced “Serving You” initiative to reach more travel agents.

Most recently, Levengood ran her own marketing company. Before that, she led marketing and sales at 1-800-PetMeds for nearly eight years.