MSC sets course for ‘UK comeback’

Photo Credit Dave Jones

by Natasha Salmon

MSC Cruises plans to double its UK sales team as it aims for growth in the UK market, Natasha Salmon reports from the line’s new offices in west London

MSC Cruises has pledged allegiance to the trade as it plans to double its sales team ahead of a planned “huge comeback” in the UK market.

The operator says it has set its sights on helping the UK reclaim its position as the largest cruise market in Europe having been overtaken by Germany.

Market ambitions

Speaking at MCS’s new offices in Uxbridge, UK managing director Antonio Paradiso and sales director Steve Williams said strengthening its team of account managers was key.

Paradiso said: “MSC will be making a huge comeback in the UK as the British market really matters to us. We have had the opportunity to develop the German market and it has overtaken Britain in the rankings. We want to get the UK back to number two in the world [behind the US].

“The size of the market is always going to be linked to the capacity you have at sea, and as we have 11 ships coming in the next 10 years, we want 3.6 million European passengers by 2024.”

This year MSC operated six sailings from Southampton on MSC Splendida, the line’s first UK departures for two years.

The family‑owned line will launch the 4,500-capacity MSC Meraviglia next year and the first of its new Seaside-class ship in 2018.

Paradiso said he wants MSC to become one of the top-three cruise lines in the UK and has tasked Williams with growing the sales team from six to 14 following his switch from rival Royal Caribbean.

“It is a huge opportunity to restructure a sales business in a way that really gives British and Irish cruise agents what they expect,” said Williams.

“We will have a team of regional sales managers covering the UK to grow our presence on the ground, where we were weaker before, especially with high street agents.

“They will be overseen by a head of retail. Plus, I will also have a team of national account managers who will focus on supporting cruise specialists. We’re keen to build great relationships with the consortia and multiples too.”

Commission review

Another area Williams will be assessing is commission and MSC’s agent reward scheme, with an individually focused loyalty scheme under consideration.

“There is a base commission but we are reviewing the whole commercial structure,” he said.

“We will work with business owners to discuss what rewards and commission are appropriate for their companies. Currently, we don’t believe a blanket scheme is the right way for us, but this will develop as our regional account managers work with frontline staff.”

Ship visits

Agent engagement will be enhanced with more ship visits in Scotland, Ireland and Southampton as well as more fam trips and a new online training platform.

Paradiso stressed agents remain the priority for a line that sees just 2% of its business come direct.

“We are aware that some of the larger cruise lines are adopting aggressive approaches to drive direct business. We have no intention to do this,” he said.

“We have a contact centre in the UK, so if people want to book direct with us they can, but the trade remains our key priority.”

On price, Paradiso said: “We are starting a journey to become more popular and the prices will reflect that. There will always be value for money, but we offer premium cruises as well with our Yacht Club.”

As part of a drive to make UK agents feel like they are part of “the MSC family”, the line will host 50 agents at Travel Weekly’s Globe Travel Awards 2017 in January.

Cruise chief targets ‘pirate’ shore excursion operators

Photo courtesy of Dave Jones

by Hollie-Rae Merrick

Cruise lines need to educate agents about the value of selling shore excursions to stop “pirate third-party operators stealing guests”, the boss of the world’s largest cruise company has claimed.

Carnival Corporation chief executive Arnold Donald told the Clia conference in Southampton that there was scope to improve the promotion and sales of both onboard and destination-based experiences.

“There has only been one year since 2006 that onboard revenues didn’t go up,” he said. “Despite any changes in the industry, onboard revenues have continued to grow.

“Those changes include shore excursions where you have a lot of, what we call pirates, but they call themselves independent operators, stealing our guests on shore excursions that they ought to be booking with us.

“It’s a missed opportunity for us.”

Donald said that working with agents would help customers differentiate between shore tours provided through cruise lines and others.

“Some of those tours aren’t the same,” he added. “They may go to the same places but they aren’t the same.

“They may not have the same insurance, they may not have the same quality guides and consumers buying online doesn’t know all that. We have to do a better job at that.

“There are so many opportunities on this.”

Donald went on to praise the performance of the UK market which he described as “robust” and performing well.

He claimed the UK was on a “positive trajectory from a Carnival standpoint”, but admitted that the industry needed to “manage smarter and not panic on price”.

He said it was important to “hang in there a little bit longer on price” to help drive up the average cruise fare.

MSC Cruises’ return to ex-UK sailings delayed by a year

MSC Cruises is unlikely to return to offering a full season of ex-UK sailings until 2018, a year later than the line previously predicted.

Speaking at the steel cutting of new ship MSC Seaside (pictured), Gianni Onorato, chief executive of the line, said the line would be delayed returning to the UK by a year.

Initially there had been hopes that the brand would make a return in 2017, having pulled out this year.

Next year the line is offering a small number of sailings from Southampton, but Onorato said “internal commitments” had meant the operator would not have a ship sailing a full season from the UK until 2018.

He said: “we are going to look more deeply at the North American and UK markets, and then after that we will look at Asia.

“In the UK we want to be the reference cruise line for the Mediterranean, and we’re investing in that. As soon as we have growth in the fleet we will look to have a competitive ship in the UK market.

“I think we will have a one-year delay in coming back to the UK because of other developments internally.”

He said over time he would like MSC to rival domestic cruise lines such as P&O Cruises.

Giles Hawke, executive director for the line who is responsible for the UK market, said it was important for the line to grow and build revenues in the UK if it wants to secure a ship ex-UK.

Onorato also made some announcements about new features onboard MSC Seaside, which will sail year-round from Miami when it launches in 2017.

The ships will offer “super family plus” cabin for groups of up to 10 people, as the line looks to capitalise on the growth of multi generational and group cruises.

It will be “extremely kids-friendly” according to Onorato and will also have a kids-only restaurant. Onorato said MSC was a family company which always had families at heart.

He announced that there would be cluster cabins for groups of up to 10 people, with the super family plus option combining two balcony staterooms and an inside cabin.