From comedy to cream teas, Jeannine Williamson hears how the Italian-owned line is looking to attract more British customers on a series of ex-UK cruises as she attends the delivery ceremony of its brand new ship MSC Seaside
Stand-up comedy and British creature comforts – including full English breakfast and afternoon tea – are among the ‘tweaks’ to tempt UK passengers aboard an ever-increasing number of MSC Cruises ships.
As the Swiss-based and Italian-owned family line continues to grow apace, MSC is confident that it has plenty of USPs to make it stand out from the cruising crowd – features that 1,100 agents have discovered on ship visits this year, and which more will get to see in 2018 when MSC Magnifica sails on 23 ex-Southampton cruises between April and October.
“There is a cruise line for everyone,” explained Antonio Paradiso, managing director of MSC in the UK, at the delivery ceremony for the 4,132-passenger MSC Seaside, the largest ship ever built at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard. “There are more than 20 cruise lines out there, but we love a bit of competition and believe we offer something different in terms of destinations and experience.”
Seaside is the 14th addition to the fleet and the first Seaside-class ship. There are ten more ships being built as part of MSC’s unprecedented €9 billion expansion that will see a ship a year launched through to 2026, with six coming into service before 2020. These include two Seaside Evo ships – a further evolution of the Seaside vessels – which were revealed in a surprise announcement at the Seaside delivery ceremony.
Paradiso said that while remaining true to its heritage, MSC had itself evolved into an international line resulting in more UK passengers.
“We can’t deny our Mediterranean roots and see this as a unique selling point,” he said. “The Brits love warm climates and the Med remains the first destination for the British market followed by the Caribbean. A total of 65 per cent of our business is in the Med and we have more ships based there than any other line.”
With a younger demographic than many other cruise lines – the average age of passengers is 45 – MSC is out to target new-to-cruise business, such as couples who enjoy going to upmarket land-based resorts. MSC’s fantastic children’s facilities also reflect the love of families and multi-generational groups prevalent in Mediterranean countries.
“We know that customers pick the destination first and then the main driver is the ships,” continued Paradiso. “We have moved from a European flavour to an international feeling of glamour and elegance that starts from the minute you walk on board. We offer a huge choice of options along with something different on every ship. Seaside is the first ship of a new generation and marks our fifth class of ship. We wanted to do something different with Seaside with features that bring guests closer to the sea, making the ship perfect for warm climates like the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Seaside also features the first French bistro in the fleet.”
The line is gearing up for its biggest ever number of ex-UK sailings, which will see Magnifica equipped with kettles and Yorkshire Tea in every cabin and a food offering that includes full English breakfast and afternoon tea with scones. There will also be an English cruise director and hotel director and a British comedian.
Comedy, which at one time never featured on MSC ships, and English-speaking shows are among fleet-wide developments to attract the UK market. For the first time ever, Seaside offers improvised comedy shows in partnership with the American BeerProv company, along with seven Broadway-style productions in the main theatre.
Paradiso said the line had made significant strides in penetrating the UK market, which now represents around 10 per cent of passengers.
“MSC is the number one cruise line in Europe, but when I started two years ago it had a very small presence in the UK and really was a well-kept secret,” he said. “We put in a team of regional sales managers and now cover the whole of the country, including Northern Ireland. When I began a lot of the work was about dispelling misconceptions about the brand, such as it was full of Italians, the only language spoken was Italian and all the food was Italian.
“We embarked on an agent training programme and are getting more agents on board as that is the best way for them to see the product. We used to be a European player but now we are a global player. At one time around 35 per cent of passengers were Italian, but that is now 15 per cent as other nationalities including the British sail with MSC.”