MSC Cruises is a relatively young business in the UK. How long has MSC operated an office in the UK?
Eighteen years now! We opened the UK office in 1994 at that time we only had four ships – we tripled the fleet in a very short time.
Non-primary English speaking brands have traditionally struggled to get any major traction in the UK. What is MSC’s experience since your product was introduced in the UK?
When we opened an office in the UK we were planning and looking to the future. The UK market is important to us and we wanted to be part of it. In the last few years the growth has been phenomenal, for example in January and February we experienced unprecedented growth in the UK, with bookings up more than 93% year-on-year. We attribute these sales figures to a great selection of offers for all segments and distribution channels. In addition MSC Cruises’ profile is now stronger in the UK market. We have seen a massive increase in brand awareness within the travel trade and from consumers.
You operate a dedicated no-fly product ex the UK. Is your UK support primarily for that product or are you now seeing Brits travel with MSC in other regions and where?
No, we are continuity expanding and building our brand in the UK and although ex-UK is a big step for us, we cruise to the Mediterranean, South America, South Africa, Baltics, Northern Europe, Red Sea and the Caribbean. Moreover we are seeing more and more British passengers opt for these destinations too. We are a significant force in the Mediterranean, South America and South Africa and having increased the fleet we are now cruising the world except the Far East.
Did the Costa Concordia incident have any major impact on your UK bookings as MSC can be seen as another Italian brand?
Our booking trend was good before the incident and it has not been affected. We do not consider ourselves as an Italian brand. We sell an international experience. We are a Mediterranean company.
A lot has been said about the MSC Preziosa lately. Has it now been confirmed this ship will be joining your fleet?
Yes, MSC Preziosa will become the 13th addition to the MSC Cruises’ fleet, as well as the precious fourth ship in the series of fantasia-class ships, which include MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida and the long-awaited MSC Divina. MSC Preziosa is in fact the sister ship of MSC Divina, who is currently having her final touches applied in the STX ship yard in St Nazaire, France, before her christening in May 2012. The ship will be delivered at the end of March 2013. MSC Preziosa will boast 1,751 cabins, 26 lifts, and 18 decks, 14 of them for passengers. Guests will be able to enjoy four main restaurants; two speciality restaurants; 21 bars; a casino; four swimming pools including an infinity pool; 12 whirlpools; a bowling alley; a sports area with playing fields; a fitness centre; a children’s area and the superb MSC Aurea Spa. An exclusive feature of MSC Preziosa – and of all fantasia-class ships in the MSC fleet – is the MSC Yacht Club. Privileged passengers staying in the 69 exclusive MSC Yacht Club suites will be able to take advantage of the private bar, solarium, hydro-massage pools, and the spectacular glass-walled observation lounge with amazing ocean views. A butler service will offer assistance at check-in, transport luggage, unpack, serve traditional English afternoon tea as well as arranging cigars and beverages, booking tables at restaurants, treatments in the MSC Aurea Spa, ad hoc excursions and even arrange private parties.
You are launching a new ship this year. Can you please tell us a little bit more about that?
We are launching the long-waited MSC Divina. It will be christened in Marseille on the 26 May 2012. It is the third and latest addition to the MSC Cruises’ flagship Fantasia class, MSC Divina will become the 12th and most magnificent ship of the MSC Cruises’ fleet. MSC Divina will boast 1,751 cabins (one hundred more than her sister ships MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida), 25 lifts and 27,000 square metres of public spaces which include restaurants, bars, a casino, four swimming pools, including the new Garden Pool, a bowling alley, a gym and the MSC Aurea Spa. The ship’s 18 decks, 14 of them for passengers, are named after the Gods of Ancient Greece in honour of Sophia Loren, modern day Italian film goddess and patron of the MSC Cruises fleet.
Travel agents who wish to sell your product what training tools does MSC have available for the travel agent to tap into?
MSC Cruises has one of the advanced training websites called easy as MSC Cruises www.easyasmsc.co.uk and once the travel agent has completed the online training they will get a certificate. We are now in the process of launching a new and advanced e – learning website. We also have our Sales Development Executives that offer training facilities, they visit travel agents and offer training facilities which helps travel agents understand and know who MSC Cruises is and who to sell MSC Cruises to. And it helps to identify and differentiate from other brands.
Commission reductions are constantly a hot topic amongst agents. Are there any plans in the immediate future for MSC to change the commission levels it pays agents?
At the moment MSC Cruises has no plans to reduce commission.
For agents wishing to experience the MSC hospitality are there reduced travel agent rates available for that purpose?
Oh yes, throughout the year we always have special agent rates and we have had a great response from the market for the rates. We also organise fam trips to the Mediterranean, Northern Europe and we organise day ship visits in ex-UK and many in the Mediterranean.