Global Ambitions

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises.

“In three years we will double our capacity and in 10 years we will triple it,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises.

In 2018 MSC will operate a fleet of 14 ships with an average size of 2,892 guests at double occupancy and is expected to be the largest operator by capacity in Europe. It has ambitious expansion plans in North America and China and is the market leader in South America and South Africa. By 2028 the company will have 24 ships in service, with an average size of 3,734 passengers.

“Our objective is to deliver a holiday experience which is unique to our customers and to tourism in general,” Vago told Cruise Industry News. “It’s also to expand the concept of cruising to the world,” Vago added.

Between now and 2026, MSC will take deliveries of ships on the Seaside, Meraviglia, Meraviglia Plus, Seaside EVO and the LNG-powered World Class platforms.

Vago described MSC as a global brand, with a premium level product offering at a contemporary price.

“Our common denominator is that we are a Mediterranean brand with the capability to fine-tune the experience to the area of operation,” Vago said. “We can fine-tune the product delivery.”

While its peers have a house of brands competing in the cruise market, MSC has a single brand with large ships.

“MSC has traditionally believed in organic growth,” Vago said.

But that doesn’t mean they may not one day explore other market segments as customers grow with the brand.

The MSC Seaside

In Europe, Vago said the company has realized their ambition to conquer the market, also entering the business later than all their competitors.

That strategy is now expanding to the rest of the world, he said, and the plans will follow demand.

In China, the MSC Splendida is replacing the Lirica on a seasonal basis, upping summer capacity out of Shanghai. In South America, the new Seaview will sail from Brazil for winter 2018-2019.

In North America, the new Seaside is year-round, to be joined by the 2017-built Meraviglia come 2019.

“We have customers travelling to the Caribbean and we needed to introduce new ships, with a different platform,” Vago said. “We had the need to put more cabins and a new offering into the North American market if we wanted to evolve our brand there.

“We had one ship (in North America) and she was filled with customers from Europe. We did not have the opportunity to grow,” he continued. “There is an opportunity for MSC to grow in North America but we needed to create both the hardware and the software for the market. That is the vision behind the building of a very new platform and prototype, the MSC Seaside.

“The Seaside is a spirit of our leadership in many ways. We are setting the pace for innovation and we will see many reflections of this platform for years to come.”

The Seaview, a sister ship, will be delivered this summer. The Seaside EVO platform, essentially an enlarged version with more staterooms, will be launched in 2021, with a second ship scheduled for a 2023 delivery from Fincantieri.

International growth is offsetting US jitters over Europe, says NCL

by Lee Hayhurst

Aggressive growth in international markets over the last 12 months will help cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line cope with a slowdown in the US market.

After recent government warnings over the safety of travelling to Europe cruise operators have reported a softening of the market, although Americans continue to sail closer to home.

NCL says the US slowdown will mean other markets, including the UK, will be expected to make up the shortfall, but international deployments in China, south America, the Middle East and Australasia has grown non-US markets.

Francis Riley, NCL executive vice president international business development, said: “We are de-risking ourselves from just being reliant on one major source market.

“Initial growth has been really accelerated by having a local presence in these markets. It’s not rocket science, we have just accelerated our international growth.

“We have changed the structure of our business so that we have a whole dedicated international area directly reporting into the CEO.

“In general the US business has slowed down a bit. It’s not that the business has fallen off completely, it’s just they are tending to sail closer to home. They are changing their choices.”

Riley said NCL was seeing a bigger drop off when balances are due among US guests who had put down a refundable deposit of a European cruise.

And the line is seeing an increase in bookings for Caribbean as US customers defer plans to visit Europe for a year.

NCL says it’s more established international footprint means it can react to specific issues in markets, like the slowdown in Brazil and Norway associated with economic problems due to the low oil price.

Regions where it has significantly upped its presence are Australia, where it has gone from having no one based to 40 today, China for which it has built a ship, the Norwegian Joy, Israel and Scandinavia.

But the UK remains a key source market and next year NCL will reflect this by deploying Norwegian Jade, a ship which was previously based in the UK, to Southampton and Hamburg.

“There is significant increase in capacity for the European market and a big chunk of that will be for the UK to grow,” said Riley.

Recent promotions for this summer have gone down well in the UK, said NCL, which is poised to kick off a campaign linked to the Euro 2016 football tournament that kicks off tomorrow.

The operator will screen matches live on board its ships for those who are interested but will also promote its ships as places to get away from the football if customers choose to.

“Reaction among the trade has been phenomenal which means the UK has seen a record breaking year in terms of passenger numbers and revenues,” said Riley.

“This summer there is a lot of capacity in Europe which has had an impact to a degree on pricing but that comes back to us not being reliant on one particular market.”

NCL says it is working hard to ensure the message gets out that customers who book early do get added value compared to a late bookers taking advantage of a discounted price.

Valuable additional benefits like free Wi-Fi, a drinks package that is worth up to $600 per week or dining options are only available to early bookers.

“Also early bookers are getting the first choice of cabins and the best availability. Typically when you come in with price reductions it’s about topping off the ship rather than filling it.”

Why Falkland Islands’ cruise ship tourism is booming, with 60,000 visitors expected to arrive this year.


By MICHAEL GADD FOR MAILONLINE

  • The return of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ visits provides a massive boost
  • Falkland Islands expecting 60,000 arrivals by cruise ship this season
  • Last year’s arrival figures rose to 43,437 after a low of 29,000 in 2012-13
  • Nature tourism is the main draw with many marine bird species and seals 

Falkland Islands tourism has made a remarkable comeback in the past few years with the number of cruise ship visitors rising from less than 30,000 in 2012-13 to potentially double that this year.

The boost comes thanks in no small way to the return of the Norwegian Cruise Line’s services to South America this season from October to March, including stops at Falklands’ capital Stanley.

Their Sun vessel, which has a maximum passenger capacity of 1,900 and spends the Northern Hemisphere summer around Alaska, is planning nine stops at Stanley as part of its cruise around Cape Horn this season.

Stanley-based vessel agent Sulivan Shipping estimates 60,000 arrivals by cruise ship this year, following last year’s official figure of 43,437 passengers, despite six trips cancelled by poor weather.

Should Mother Nature be kind and the estimate ring true, the Falklands could be nudging their heights of 2007-08 and 2008-09 when they welcomed more than 62,000 visitors before the global economic crisis hit and numbers slumped to 29,000 three years ago.

‘Of course we are very much at the mercy of the weather here in the Falkland Islands,’ Samantha Marsh, Tourism Coordinator for Sulivan Shipping, tells MailOnline.


The Norwegian Sun cruise ship, which holds 1,900 passengers, is planning nine stops at Stanley this year

‘Large ships need to tender their passengers into Stanley harbour so high winds which are a characteristic of summer in the Southern Hemisphere can cause issues.

‘On average we will have six cancellations a season due to unfavourable weather. So the anticipated estimate seems very high in comparison to last year’s actual landed figures, but when we take into account some cancellations due to bad weather, we are probably looking at a conservative estimate of 50,000 landed.’ Even so, it remains a substantial period of growth for the archipelago with a resident population of less than 3,000

And with a Falklands’ Tourism Board office opening in London this year, further building a bond with the UK after an overwhelming 98 per cent majority voted to remain under the Union Jack amid continued tensions with Argentina, that figure appears only set to rise. They are also pushing to attract more visitors from the US and other untapped markets.

Marsh adds that the growing capacity of expedition and research ships has also boosted numbers.

‘When I first started working here, many years ago, the average expedition vessel had an average 50-80 passenger capacity. These ships are now around 150 in average capacity,’ she says.

‘The increase in numbers can only be a positive for the local economy, but as a small Island, we do quite often find it difficult to meet the demand in the way of excursions.

‘With practically zero unemployment, many people will take the day off to drive a coach, or to take guests to visit the penguins in order to cater for a large ship visit.’

The first passenger boat this season will be the Russian research and tourist vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov on October 17, one of eight smaller ships in the first month also including the Sea Adventurer and the Akademik Ioffe.

In November come the big cruise ships, starting with the 1400-berth Zaandam and followed by the return of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ to Stanley when the Norwegian Sun makes its first visit on December 10.

It returns for a bumper day on December 28 when it will arrive with Star Princess and MS Marina whose potential 5,600 passengers almost double the Falklands’ entire population.

So what do visitors see when they arrive? By far the greatest attractions of the Falklands is its abundance of unspoiled wildlife, the marine bird species in particular.

Tourists walk by the Falkland Islands' visitor information centre found near the jetty on arrival

After arriving in Stanley, a town with a mostly English feel and British food the predominate offering, visitors usually seek out the five species of penguin, four species of seal and many other creatures who call the islands home.

Albatross, petrels, the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck geese, and birds of prey including hawks, falcons and the Striated Caracara (Johnny Rook), which is found only on the Falklands and on small islands off Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. Porpoises and dolphins can also be seen in playing in the waves.

Another draw for the more than 3,000 UK visitors expected this year are the memorials marking the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina as interest in military history is boosted by the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

Tours of the battlefields of Goose Green and Mount Tumbledown are available while a recently-opened museum at Port Stanley has a section focussed on the conflict in the South Atlantic, also recalling the islands’ long maritime history.