MSC Cruises is looking to expand regional departures later this year, host agent fam trips onboard its flagship MSC Virtuosa and launch a new “multimillion-pound” advertising campaign, UK and Ireland bosses have revealed.
Virtuosa undertook its maiden voyage from Southampton on Thursday (20 May) – becoming the first vessel to resume cruising in the UK amid the pandemic.
Speaking to TTG onboard during the sailing, UK and Ireland managing director Antonio Paradiso said he was “seriously considering” using another ship away from Southampton to offer more embarkations in other British ports when international ex-UK sailings are able to return.
"I would like to have a ship in addition to Southampton that boards people from a different part of England or Scotland. That’s something I want to take into account for future itineraries.
“It’s our first time boarding from Liverpool and Greenock this summer and the response we’ve seen has been amazing, so ideally I’d want to make sure that some of the ex-UK itineraries we’ll also stop in other parts of England to make the whole experience even more accessibility to customers.
“A lot of customers really appreciate us making an effort to bring the ship closer to their homes and it’s something I’m seriously considering for future itineraries."
Meanwhile, sales director Steve Williams said trade educationals to showcase Virtuosa were “absolutely on the agenda” once current government restrictions eased after 21 June.
Virtuosa will sail its first handful of cruises with a fixed capacity of 1,000 guests under rules laid out by the Department for Transport.
“We’ve talked about fam trips and they are absolutely on the agenda. It’ll be an adapted version,” said Williams. “More about experiencing the product and what it feels like to holiday in our new world.”
Despite not formally hosting trade partners during Virtuosa’s launch voyage, around 50 agents booked themselves onboard, with more than 100 set to sail for Virtuosa’s second cruise departing today (24 May), Williams said.
Paradiso said he believed MSC’s brand profile within the UK cruise market had “never been higher” due to Virtuosa’s launch bringing with it the industry’s return to operations.
The ship was featured across a string of national print and TV coverage – including ITV’s Good Morning Britain and BBC’s The One Show.
More than half of guests onboard Virtuosa’s inaugural sailing had never cruised before, according to Paradiso, who told TTG early last week that around 40% of total Virtuosa bookings for the summer were new to cruise.
“Virtuosa has changed so many perceptions about cruising and all these new-to-cruise guests will go back home and start spreading the word.”
Williams also described how around 80% of MSC’s daily current sales were bookings for Virtuosa’s summer season.
The ship’s arrival had “fast-tracked” MSC’s growth within the UK and “brought us ahead by two or three years”, he said.
To capitalise, MSC is set to launch a new publicity campaign across TV, print, radio and view-on-demand from 1 June – with a new UK-focused advert.
“It’s pitched at a younger demographic and is a bit of a departure from what we’d normally do,” described Williams.
“We’ve been on the BBC and ITV, so consumers would have seen our cruises are back and now the next step is to boost that awareness further and create temptation for them to book.”
Reflecting on Virtuosa’s maiden voyage and MSC’s return to UK operations, Paradiso said he felt “happy and very satisfied”.
“We’ve worked really hard to make this happen and it’s nice to see guests onboard having such a great time – that pays for all the hard work,” he said.
“It’s been challenging but the pressure has been good and it’s nice to feel that adrenaline again after months of cancellations, refunds and rescheduling. It’s amazing to be creating something positive.”