MSC Building Shore Excursion Perfection

Overnight tours are trending at MSC Cruises, according to Jean-Pierre Joubert, director of shore excursions.

The line’s recently-concluded world cruise saw one option with guests off the ship for six nights.

In Costa Maya guests can disembark and overnight in a hotel. Activities include a visit to the archaeological site of Coba, the Chichen Itza ruins and a laser light show and stay in a hotel, rejoining the ship the next day in Cozumel. It’s one of the top performing tours at MSC.

“It has all the elements guests want to see, and all the things the cruise line does (behind the scenes) to make it happen,” Joubert said. “In the background we take care of immigration, hotels and making sure we have the right mix of tour guides for different languages.”

There is also a move toward small, unique group experiences and more family-themed tours with interactive storytelling.

Joubert said crafting a shore excursion program was both art and science.

The line’s top performing ports? St. Petersburg and the North Cape, where up to 2,000 guests take the same tour which is essentially a bus transfer to the North Cape.

New tours are evaluated the old fashioned way. Go out and go on them.

“We are the still the sales people,” Joubert explained. “The only way to sell something is to know it inside and out.”

Right now, he said he was evaluating tour offerings in 34 new ports ahead of the 2019-2020 season and the 2020 summer season.

“Greenland is an exciting one,” he continued, noting the MSC Orchestra visiting the country for the first time this summer. “We are port nerds; we like this kind of thing.

“Each port has a different scenario,” Joubert said. “When we are in places people go once in their life, it always over performs.”

While exotic locations book well, ports that have a large repeat passenger rate (i.e. Nassau) may be more challenging to develop excursions.

Shore excursions fall into eight categories for MSC, ranging from city tours to adventure, history and more with the number of tours ranging from five to over 35 in some ports.

“With Cozumel we have over 35 tours. A lot of people have gone there and we often add to it to renew and refresh the product.

“In the Caribbean we have 60 percent European guests and it’s a bucket list destination,” Joubert said. “It’s easy to have a multitude of experiences to choose from.”

Competing against independent tour providers, MSC guests get value and quality when booking tours with the cruise line, and significant cost savings if pre-booking online. It’s no secret the ship will wait for guests to complete their tours if necessary, but there are also little details, such as opening restaurants early or keeping them open late, Joubert noted. 

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2019

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