MSC chief says Europe cruising can be a 'blueprint' for other restarts

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Gianni Onorato, right, the CEO of MSC Cruises, with editor in chief Arnie Weissmann.
Gianni Onorato, right, the CEO of MSC Cruises, with editor in chief Arnie Weissmann. Photo Credit: Travel Weekly

MSC Cruises' successful restart in Europe proves that not only can cruising be done safely during the pandemic but that it creates a safer environment than many shoreside places, said MSC CEO Gianni Onorato.

Speaking at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld, held virtually, Onorato said that MSC's two ships, including the MSC Grandiosa, the first large ship cruise line to resume service this summer with cruises out of Italy on Aug. 16, have been operating safely in Europe for almost three months despite the worsening pandemic there.

"This is proof that with the right protocols the ships can operate," he said. "We are very glad we can show that with the protocols and prevention and a strong response plan, cruising is possible. And we hope the same will happen in the U.S. with the dialogue open with the CDC.

"The safety bubble created on cruise ships can be considered one of the safest available," he added. "As we speak, there many places in Europe where bars and restaurants are closed. Shops and theaters are closed. And they are open on a ship. This proves again that with the right protocols, we can operate the ships."

When asked by moderator Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief of Travel Weekly, what MSC has learned from the those initial sailings, Onorato said an important lesson was that "it was possible to continue to deliver a great product" while keeping passengers and crew healthy and safe.

He believes that not only can MSC replicate this model around the world but that it can be an industry model.

"It can be a blueprint for the resumption of cruises elsewhere in the world," he said, adding that he believes cruising will only get safer as testing advances are made, such as more rapid, reliable antigen tests; saliva tests; and breath analyzer testing.

When asked why European authorities seemed less demanding than their U.S. counterparts by allowing large lines to resume service this summer and not demanding test sailings, Onorato said that while European authorities "were very demanding with us to allow our restart," he said Europe had been more successful at that time in managing to control the first wave of Covid-19 over the summer.

The current increase in Europe's Covid-19 cases, however, is causing a cruise booking dip, Onorato said, reversing what had been a very positive 2021 bookings trend up until the last four to six weeks when the Covid surge resulted in the lockdowns in many countries, including Italy, Spain, France and Germany.  

Prior to that, he said, bookings were strong, both from new passengers and from people with 2020 sailings who had moved their bookings to 2021.

"It was a good trend for most of the year," he said. "Less in the last four to six weeks, especially in Europe where the pandemic is worsening. We see that people are waiting. They are waiting to book because they are waiting to get good news. The good news of a possible vaccine by end of year and early next year will surely allow us to have an uptick in bookings. Especially because people really want to travel and can't live without traveling."

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