MSC Cruises ‘very close’ to fulfilling UK market ambition

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MSC Cruises’ UK boss says the line is “very close” to fulfilling a long-term ambition to have a 10% share of the UK cruise market.

In late 2017, the line pledged to one-day sell one in every ten cruises taken by the UK and become “a leading international player” within five years.

Antonio Paradiso, the line’s the UK and Ireland managing director said MSC currently has 7.9% of the market but believes a lengthened MSC Magnifica would add a further 90,000 berths to the market in 2021.

Speaking on new Meraviglia-Plus class ship MSC Grandiosa in Southampton, Paradiso said: “I am really confident that by 2022, MSC will be the number one international cruise line in this country. We are getting very close to that.

“We’re are at about 7.9%, so we’re getting there. A big boost will be when MSC Magnifica will sail out of Southampton [in summer 2021].”

Southampton will be MSC Magnifica’s only embarkation port when it is based in the UK in summer 2021.

Paradiso said: “It is a great opportunity for the travel agents. [Magnifica] alone will boost our production by 90,000 passengers.”

The line also has plans to further bolster its growing sales team in 2020. Paradiso said he would recruit for a strategic account manager – a new role – early next year.

“The strategic account manager will help [head of retail] Andrea Stafford strengthen the relationship with all the head offices in the UK and some important key accounts,” he said.

Paradiso said the sales team expansion goes “hand in hand” with the growth the line was experiencing in the UK.

MSC launched MSC Bellissima earlier this year. MSC Grandiosa is 16 metres longer than the Meraviglia-class ship.

On Grandiosa, the line has exhibited an art collection on a ship for the first time, expanded its French Bistrot L’Atelier Bistrot and launched two exclusive Cirque du Soleil shows onboard.

The line has welcomed around 4,200 UK agents across its fleet since the launch of MSC Bellissima in Southampton in March this year.

Ship visits would be arranged when MSC ships called in the UK and Ireland, said Paradiso, who added: “One thing we do very successfully is fam trips every year which are normally fly-and-cruise out of Barcelona or Rome which allow agents to spend time onboard.

“The ex-UK sailings represent a good portion of our business. However, the Mediterranean is still the number one destination for the UK market.

“It is important that agents get to experience the ships that we have in the Med.”

From 2023, the line will launch four 64,000-ton luxury vessels which have yet to be named. Paradiso said the name would be announced between March and April next year.

“The first step would be to announce the brand,” he said. “We will disclose a bit more information about the luxury ships that we are building. The UK will be one of the first countries in the world to go on sale.”

Royal Caribbean boss moves to dispel UK cruise concerns

Independence of the Seas in Southampton photo by Dave Jones.

Royal Caribbean Cruises’ boss has moved to dispel concerns that the UK cruise industry faces a bleak future amid ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

Royal Caribbean International last week cancelled Independence of the Seas’ 2020 UK season and announced the ship would operate out of Florida instead to meet the demand for Perfect Day in CocoCay, the line’s new private island in the Bahamas.

The decision left some agents to question whether a soft UK market due to Brexit had prompted the decision – rather than a soaring interest in the $250 million private island which will be served by 11 Royal ships this year.

Speaking on Celebrity Edge’s maiden ex-UK sailing from Southampton on Monday, Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ chairman and chief executive, said: “We are here for the long term, we are not here for the current climate.

“There is no doubt that the UK market will do very well in the long-term and it continues to be our second largest market. We have been here when it has gone through cycles. The cruise industry is not fickle – it is solid and consistent.”

Fain admitted there was “a modicum of uncertainty” in the UK market as confusion continued over when Britain would leave the EU.

But he added that Royal Caribbean International had to move more capacity to North America due to “an extraordinary surge in interest” in Perfect Day, which launched just over a week ago.

“This is a wonderful problem to have,” he said, adding: “That we don’t have enough ships to satisfy the [customer] demand.”

Plans to expand the existing Perfect Day site were being looked at, said Fain. Only a third of the island is currently being used by Royal Caribbean to accommodate passengers.

Fain also added: “We look at the UK market as more than just ships sailing out of the UK. One of the reasons why the UK market has been so attractive to us is Brits are amazing travellers.”

Sailings in the eastern Mediterranean represented “a great opportunity” for Britons looking for fly-cruise options away from the UK, Fain said.

‘Hurricanes prevented UK cruise numbers reaching two million mark’

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The above Satellite shows three Hurricanes.

The number of cruises sold to British holidaymakers in 2017 may have exceeded two million if hurricanes had not hit the Caribbean, it has been claimed.

Clia last week reported a record year for the British cruise industry, with 1,959,000 Britons taking a cruise holiday in 2017 – an increase of 0.5% against 2016.

Stuart Leven, Clia’s UK and Ireland chairman, said it was a “major factor” that “five or six weeks” after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck ships were sent to help with the humanitarian effort.

He told Travel Weekly: “I would not lay it firmly at the door of hurricanes but several ships were taken out of service in order to help, which means there were fewer holidays to sell and flights were cancelled. It is a major factor.”

He added that the hurricanes had “not had any impact” on future bookings, adding that it could have been “the difference” between hitting the two million mark and not.

When asked about the figures at Abta’s First Time Cruisers Conference in central London, Leven said the UK market has “massive scope for growth”.

He said cruise lines would be encouraged to deploy more ships in the UK due to people cruising for the first time giving higher satisfaction scores after the sailing.

“If you can get more people on ships there is a massive scope for growth,” he said.

Leven cited how the UK cruise industry holds a 4.5% share of the holiday market, but if that figure increased by one percent that would add 500,000 passengers to the annual number of Britons taking cruises.

He also said: “Most of the agents are better at selling a cruise than the cruise lines are. They are the experts. Eight out of 10 bookings come through the trade.”