MSC To Bring Lessons Learned In Return To Caribbean

Cruise Week
When MSC first launched year-round Caribbean cruising in late 2013, company leaders cited travel agent support, a unique Mediterranean-style of cruising and a North Americanized Divina experience as reasons why it would work. But for a variety of reasons, the results were disappointing.

So when the brand announced Divina would return to year-round Caribbean cruising starting summer 2016 and with MSC's new Seaside also slated to sail year round Caribbean itineraries starting in 2017, some asked 'why?'

After all, the pricing challenges could be just as thorny, because it's unlikely the Caribbean will be any less competitive than what MSC encountered in 2014. Norwegian will have an even stronger presence in the Caribbean year-round market by the time MSC Seaside arrives in Miami.

But MSC believes it's well worth the gamble: “North America is the #1 market in the world," CEO Gianni Onorato told Cruise Week. “...We want to be a global cruise line, so we are obliged to increase our presence and commitment to the North American market."

That won't make MSC's Caribbean challenge any easier. So what's different this time?

When MSC first launched year-round Caribbean, Executive V.P. Ken Muskat energetically knocked on the doors of industry leaders to promote the new kid on the block. While his enthusiasm has not dampened, what's different is this time his efforts will be bolstered by a far stronger supporting cast.

The line's True Partnership program is in place and with that comes field reps in all the major markets, noticeably lacking in the lead-up to Divina's year-round Caribbean placement.

“We didn't have the right technology to dial up with travel agents [the first time]," says Onorato, adding that will be in place this time. But perhaps the game changer is that by the time Seaside launches, MSC will be a far different company than when Divina first entered the crowded scene.

MSC is unveiling the Seaside differences one by one so it was particularly important that the first Seaside reveal, done recently in Miami Beach, wasn't a dud. At 154,000 tons, 2070 staterooms and a space ratio of 37, the ship is going to be busy. But it will also feature numerous unique features, starting with the contours of the ship which are unique to say the least - and are already attracting commentary.

In terms of specific product feature differences, the aqua park has both high speed racing slides and scary overboard tubing experiences. By now you may have heard of the specifics: 5 slides and dozens of sprays, including ones cruisers can take control of and spray on others if they so desire. Then there's “slide boarding" in which cruisers race against each other, keeping score along the way.

And MSC is digging in. By announcing year-round cruising from Miami now, MSC is taking a page from the luxury lines and working in advance to prepare the market.

Finally, MSC is showing commitment. It signed a letter of intent with the Port of Miami to
collaborate on a renovated and expanded dedicated berth and terminal. “We need to show we are very serious about our expansion in North America," explains Onorato.

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