We are investing in Italian crew and Italian cuisine,” said Antonio De Rosa, vice president of marketing, sales and operations at Mediterranean Shipping Cruises (MSC), which now calls itself MSC Crociere Italiane or MSC Italian Cruising in North America.
As the big companies turn out bigger ships, MSC is intent on not becoming just another player. “We are building medium-sized ships,” De Rosa pointed out, “and we are concentrating on the software side – on our Italian service as well as on interesting itineraries.”
While the consolidation in the industry has led to four companies controlling nearly 80 percent of the business, De Rosa said that if even 10 percent of the big companies’ passengers decide they like cruising and venture to look for something different – a less commoditized experience – they will fill the other 20 percent.
Following 9/11, De Rosa said that there were virtually no bookings from October through January – a comment that was echoed by other cruise executives in Europe. This was followed by a weak spring, but as of June, bookings and pricing are back on track compared to 2001.
With the exception of Turkey, MSC dropped all Eastern Mediterranean ports from its summer program, with the Rhapsody sailing seven-day cruises from Venice, and the Melody and Monterey from Genoa. Capacity will be up about five percent in 2002 due to a longer drydocking of the Rhapsody last year.
Next winter, the Melody returns to Fort Lauderdale for her traditional winter program of alternating 10-day Caribbean cruises. The Monterey returns to South Africa, and the Rhapsody returns to South America, where MSC recently opened its own sales and marketing office in Brazil. “We are reinforcing our efforts in Brazil. The fundamentals of that country are sound and it is the only market with a big potential in South America,” De Rosa added. He sees a void in the market as other ships have pulled out.
MSC is also strengthening its sales efforts in North America and recently appointed new sales representatives in the Midwest and West.
Next March, MSC will introduce the first of its new ships. It has been called the MSC Symphony, but De Rosa said that a new name would be announced in June, tying the ship closer to the Italian orientation of the company. The previously announced names for the two new ships, Symphony and Harmony, are now described as “working names” only.
The first new-building will take over the Melody’s program out of Genoa in 2003, while the Melody will move to Venice, taking over the Rhapsody’s program, which in turn will move to Genoa on a new itinerary aimed at attracting younger passengers, according to De Rosa. But while seeking to attract younger passengers, MSC also sticks to traditional cruise values such as fixed dining room seating. “Guests like to be served,” De Rosa said. “They like that their waiter and busboy recognize them and know their preferences. If we introduce open dining, the ships will lose their focus on service. But the cruise lines that offer open seating may save money by needing fewer waiters,” he added.
De Rosa said that MSC was concentrating on the galleys of its new ships in order to be able to prepare and serve food the Italian way without pre-cooking anything. MSC has its own catering company, Italcatering, which caters its ships only.