Sam Ballard profiles the company as it prepares to take a bigger slice of the UK cruise market with new ships, new staff and a new, more anglicised outlook
“In 2002, when we started the business, we were carrying 80,000 passengers a year,” explains Antonio Paradiso, managing director of MSC in the UK and Ireland. “Today we are hosting 80,000 passengers a week. By 2026 we will have 120,000 passengers a day.”
The incredible speed of MSC’s expansion has been nothing short of breathtaking. The company currently has 11 ships on order, an investment that runs into many billions of euros.
“We went from an Italian company to a Mediterranean company and we are now a global player. MSC is currently the biggest cruise line in Europe, South America and South Africa,” he adds.
“With 11 more ships coming, if we’re supposed to go from 1.8 million passengers per year to five million by 2026 we should focus on the countries where we see huge potential.”
For MSC that growth plan means targeting the world’s most established cruise markets – the UK, USA and Australia where, in previous years, the company hasn’t made as much of an impact as it has done in Italy, France and Spain.
Having taken over the UK brief in 2016, Paradiso has already overseen the company’s move to new premises close to Heathrow and hired Steve Williams as director of sales. Williams, who was with Royal Caribbean for ten years, is the one challenged with increasing trade engagement and ultimately sales.
“I have put in a team of six regional sales managers and a head of retail, who they all report into, and who is responsible for developing our high street strategy where we really see some big opportunities – through the multiples and the consortia,” Williams explains.
“We’ve been out for the past three months and we have had our best ever January. We are 55 per cent up in the UK and Ireland. So, already, the team are having a huge effect on the trade, just being at cruise events, being at travel agencies and doing training. We’ve very quickly seen the benefit.
“My job over the next two to three years is to educate and re-educate the trade. To tell them that we can offer them something new, exciting and fresh – be that through existing ships and itineraries or new ones.”
When it comes to new hardware, no one has a tougher job than MSC. With Meraviglia launching in June and Seaside launching in December. The process of education is going to be continual one. Training platforms have been taken offline while they are given a spruce up by the global head office.
“The new ships that we have coming up are revolutionary,” Williams adds. “Meraviglia is a game-changer. Seaside is going to change the whole industry. With so many new ships now you don’t even know you’re at sea. Seaside turns that entirely on its head. The restaurants and bars are down low with big wraparound decks, it’s al fresco. We have lawn balconies. We are really changing what cruising is about.”
The company is also putting its money where its mouth is in terms of UK deployment. Next year Magnifica will be based in Southampton from April until the end of October. The ship will retain its Mediterranean influence but “20 per cent” will be anglicised – from kettles in the staterooms to draft lagers in the bars. English will be the first language on board, too.
“You can see things are changing because we are starting to use English names,” says Paradiso. “We now need to change people’s perceptions.”