MSC Cruises has U.S. customers in mind with recent ship order

MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato on the new MSC Seaside.
MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato on the new MSC Seaside.

The two ships that MSC Cruises ordered last week, due for delivery in 2021 and 2023, will serve the North American market, CEO Gianni Onorato said.

In an hour-long interview with U.S. journalists aboard the MSC Seaside in Trieste, Italy, Onorato said MSC will need four or five ships in North America to achieve its goal of carrying 1 million North American passengers.

Currently, the MSC Divina is in Miami year-round, with the brand-new Seaside set to join it there in about two weeks.

The $2.1 billion order with Fincantieri for two 4,400-passenger Seaside-Evo ships will give MSC more of the style of ship suited to the Caribbean, Onorato said. The Seaside design has plenty of open deck and pool space.

On another topic, Onorato said that MSC had suffered in North America from a strategy that it is no longer using. Until several years ago, MSC's strategy in the Caribbean was to tailor a cruise for European customers, fill most cabins with Europeans and top off with North American customers. As a result, it gained a reputation for different food and service than Americans wanted, he said.

That has been fixed but a gap remains, he said, "between our achievement and the perception of our achievement in the marketplace."

Onorato said internal customer satisfaction scores show the improvement. "Obviously, it takes time for these improvements to be fully acknowledged by everyone. It takes time," he said. An operations unit within MSC's Fort Lauderdale sales office has been established to attune MSC ships to U.S. tastes, he said.

For example, at the unit's direction, steaks on MSC's Florida-based ships are larger than ones served in the Mediterranean.

Onorato also addressed the problem of overcrowding in some Mediterranean ports such as Santorini and Dubrovnik, which risk being overwhelmed as the number and size of cruise ships increase.

He said there needs to be a "discipline" on certain dates to avoid congestion. He said MSC will work with local authorities to that end. He also said MSC and the cruise industry have been developing alternative ports. One he highlighted is the port of Sarande in southern Albania, where MSC began calling earlier this year.

"Nobody knew that in Serande there were 10 different Unesco sites," Onorato said. "This is the opportunity the cruise industry can give, because there are options. That's the only way to solve this problem."

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