MSC plans year-round N.Y. sailings

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NEW YORK -- MSC Cruises is entering the Big Apples burgeoning year-round market with the Lirica in April 2007.

Rick Sasso, MSCs U.S. CEO, said historically, North America has been a seasonal market for us, but we decided to bring more ships here in the last 12 to 15 months.

We think MSC is the perfect brand for the Northeast market, and our heritage style of cruising has not been available in this market on a year-round basis for decades, he said, referring to Home Lines, a company that touted an Italian-style ambience onboard -- and previously homeported year-round in New York.

MSC is on a growth spurt. It recently finalized an order for two post-Panamax megaships and now has four on order. MSC will debut one per year through 2009.

As for the move into New York, Sasso said the line would be prepared to take the Lirica into Brooklyn, but I actually prefer Manhattans westside piers. ... Our primary objective is to sail from Pier 88 or Pier 90 in Manhattan.

Itineraries are not final, but Bermuda, Canada/New England and the Caribbean are all in the mix, with cruises ranging from seven to 11 days.

With the cruise lines Opera already based in South Florida, MSC now will be in both places in the winter, though Sasso expects to add a ship year-round in Florida at some point.

To build its brand in the U.S., Sasso said the line will unveil a multimedia ad campaign in February and will capitalize on its relationship with Sophia Loren, the godmother of the Opera and the Lirica.

In addition, MSC is beta-testing a sales lead-referral component of its B-to-B relationship program called True Partnership, with benefits such as higher commissions, cooperative promotional support, commissionable add-ons and the like. The line plans to launch the lead-referral program to participating agents within the next 60 days, Sasso said.

To contact reporter Kristin OMeara Hillmann, send e-mail to [email protected].

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