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Are you wondering what is next for the cruise industry and what lessons have been learned from the resumption of sailing operations in Europe?
MSC Cruises has had the opportunity to successfully set sail again in the Mediterranean, and Ken Muskat, executive vice president and chief operating officer for MSC Cruises USA, has much to share about the experience — plus what’s in store for the line specifically and the industry at large.
Does MSC’s European restart give the brand any advantages for the resumption of sailings in the U.S.? One thing that’s unique about the cruise industry is that while all brands compete in terms of attracting guests and the vacation experience offered, we never do so when it comes to health and safety. We recognize that as an industry we need to work closely together — as well as with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) — to ensure that the industry as a whole can get back to safely sailing, both in the U.S. and other regions around the world.
That said, as the first major cruise line to restart — and now with nearly 40,000 guests having sailed with MSC Cruises since August — we’ve had significant learning [experiences] that we’ve been able to use as we look at our own ships restarting in various regions around the world. Most importantly, we’ve been able to demonstrate and share that through the implementation of comprehensive health and safety protocols — with key elements now being used by the industry at large — a safe return to cruising is possible.
Equally as important, while we have strict health and safety measures in place to protect our guests, crew and the communities that we visit, we can still deliver the memorable and enjoyable cruise experience that our guests are looking for on their vacation.
In the U.S., as well as regions around the world, we will make key data that we’ve been able to gather during five months of operations available to help inform decisions from authorities and regulatory bodies and support the restart not only for MSC Cruises but also for the industry overall.
Based on health measures implemented in Europe, what can Americans expect for protocols onboard and off?While we are actively engaged with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other relevant authorities in the U.S. on what the specific protocols will be for cruising from the region, at a minimum, guests can expect the protocols that are working in Europe to also be implemented in North America. This includes safety measures such as universal testing of all guests and crew, wearing masks, social distancing and wearing the provided MSC for Me wristbands for contact tracing if required.
Guests can also rest assured that we’ll continue to have increased standards of sanitation and cleanliness; 100% external fresh air supplied to all staterooms and public areas, with no recirculation of air between staterooms or within the ship; enhanced medical services with highly qualified staff; and a contingency response plan should we discover any positive cases onboard.
U.S. guests should also know that the feedback we’ve heard from our guests in Europe has been incredibly positive. Guests — and travel advisors — have told us that thanks to the protocols they’ve felt safe, but also that the cruise experience has been preserved and that they have been able take advantage of all that the ship has to offer including dining, entertainment, spa, family activities and more.
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On behalf of their clients, when can agents expect to know more about exact travel requirements?At MSC Cruises, we’re working very hard to keep our travel advisors as updated as possible regarding protocols and regularly share with them content including videos, fact sheets and news of our restart.
We are encouraging our travel advisors to share information about our restart in Europe — including protocols and the guest experience — with their clients. This will help give their U.S. clients a sense of what to expect.
How will Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve and private destinations in general play into MSC’s eventual North American return?Private island destinations will be popular as cruising resumes and cruisers seek their own private experience where they can spread out and relax in a destination all to themselves. In addition, the private island is an environment that we can control, and our comprehensive health and safety measures onboard our ships will extend onto Ocean Cay.
When Ocean Cay opened in December 2019, it was open for just about three months before the shutdown due to COVID-19 — so there are a lot of people eager to get to the island. Those who were fortunate enough to go to the island when it first opened know how truly special Ocean Cay is, and the immediate feedback we received from our guests and travel advisors was overwhelmingly positive.
Private island destinations will be popular as cruising resumes and cruisers seek their own private experience where they can spread out and relax in a destination all to themselves.
As we look to resume cruising from the U.S. — subject to approval from CDC and other relevant authorities — Ocean Cay will continue to be a main, attractive highlight of our cruises in the Caribbean and The Bahamas, with all our ships and itineraries from the U.S. — including three-, four- and seven-night itineraries — having calls at Ocean Cay.
We transformed Ocean Cay into a one-of-a-kind destination within a flourishing marine reserve, allowing our guests the unique opportunity to discover local marine life, immerse themselves in the spirit of Bahamian culture and reconnect with themselves and each other.
And with our ships frequently docked at Ocean Cay from early morning into the evening — and in many instances overnight, which will be new for us — guests have plenty of time to enjoy all the island has to offer: ocean discovery activities, an oceanside spa, shopping, dining and drinks. Both domestically and internationally, what trends are you seeing regarding local markets and homeporting closer to home? What is the outlook for cruise travelers eventually flying abroad to sail again?In today’s climate, consumers are looking for more ways to travel closer to home. Drive-to or short-flight domestic destinations will be a go-to, which is one of the reasons why MSC is introducing a new homeport in Port Canaveral in addition to Miami, offering easy access for regional guests.
That said, while initially we expect guests to stay closer to home, we’re starting to see an uptick in North American guests also booking the Mediterranean, and we anticipate this will continue to be a popular destination once normal travel is able to resume.
In addition, weekend and quick getaways seem to be gaining in popularity. For the first time, next year MSC Cruises is offering a mix of shorter and longer cruises; guests can choose between three, four or seven nights based on their own vacation needs. We’re seeing a lot of interest in these mini cruises, which are good for cruisers who may want to get back out to sea but aren’t ready to commit to a full week just yet.
RELATED: Cruise Travel Trends and Innovations Advisors Can ExpectHow should agents be approaching cruise sales until more sailings resume?It’s critical that advisors share our [health and safety] information with their clients to demonstrate that the safety measures we’ve implemented are working.
We also know consumers want a vacation to look forward to, and we’re seeing that if we offer them a good value — as we’re doing with our wave offer — and the flexibility to change their plans if needed, they are willing to book now. Advisors can use the marketing tools on MSC Book to let their clients know about our offers. They can also use Total CruiseFlex, in which guests can book a cruise they’ve been dreaming about now at a great value and have the flexibility to change their plans up to 48 hours before departure and move their cruise to any ship and any sail date through April 30, 2022.
Finally, it’s important to note that MSC Cruises is the world’s third-largest cruise brand and the fastest growing global cruise brand. On Monday, Feb. 1, we took delivery of MSC Virtuosa, the first of two new ships joining MSC’s fleet this year. MSC Seashore will then join our fleet in July of this year, with an inaugural season in the Mediterranean, before homeporting in Miami in November 2021.
The addition of MSC Virtuosa and MSC Seashore will bring our modern fleet to a total of 19 cruise ships in 2021, with projections to grow to 23 ships by 2025 and options for six vessel orders in place through 2030.
Why are the new ships important to the future of cruising?This is important for travel advisors to know and also to relay to their clients as — despite the challenging period our industry is currently in — we’re continuing to look to the longer term and build our future. The addition of MSC Virtuosa and MSC Seashore will bring our modern fleet to a total of 19 cruise ships in 2021, with projections to grow to 23 ships by 2025 and options for six vessel orders in place through 2030.
With each new ship we introduce to the market, we continue to push boundaries and innovate our product offering with new and unique experiences for our guests. For U.S. travel advisors specifically, MSC Seashore is a great ship for them to start touting now so that their clients can be amongst the first to sail on the ship from the U.S.
As the first of two enriched Seaside EVO Class ships, MSC Seashore has been enhanced with extended public spaces, more staterooms and the highest ratio of outdoor space per guest of any cruise ship in the company’s fleet. The ship will include a new double-deck show lounge below the aft pool; an extended indoor main pool allowing for more outdoor space; and new specialty dining restaurants, with an area connected to the ship’s outdoor promenade for an al fresco dining option.
MSC Seashore will also offer an enhanced MSC Yacht Club so guest can enjoy an exclusive, premium cruise experience with private amenities — including a gourmet restaurant, elegant lounge, spacious pool area and secluded sundeck — while still having access to the recreation and entertainment options the rest of the ship has to offer.
The DetailsMSC Cruiseswww.msccruisesusa.com