MSC Cruises’ return brings renewed confidence

Australia/NZ MD says new protocols success proves ocean cruising is back

MSC Cruises is buoyed by the positive response of guest and travel advisor feedback following its return to cruising after near five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since last month, MSC Cruises’ MSC Grandiosa has successfully completed two week-long Mediterranean cruises, and it is currently mid-way through its third, all of which have operated round trip from Genoa, Italy.

Alessandro Guerreri, MSC Cruises’ Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand told LATTE this week the cruise line has been “very pleased” with the response for the sailings on 16 and 23 August 2020. Guerreri said the voyages reflected a highly successful implementation of MSC Cruises’ “new and comprehensive” safety requirements.

The itinerary included port calls in Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, Palermo in Italy and Valetta, Malta. Guests choosing to disembark the ship on shore excursions were only able to participate in MSC Cruises-operated activities to ensure they maintained these guidelines. As a side note, one family on the mid-August sailing were refused entry after they broke from an MSC Cruises’ organised shore excursion and the company’s ‘social bubble’. They were subsequently denied re-embarkation.

MSC Grandiosa in port at Palermo, Italy | credit: MSC Cruises Facebook page

Guerreri continued: “From the onboard experience perspective, over the course of the first cruise we were able to open nearly all the onboard services – restaurants, shows, cafes, casino – in a phased sequence as we normally do for a restart.

“The most important thing to note was the return of MSC Grandiosa to port in Genoa after seven nights with happy, healthy guests. In all we managed to maintain a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for our guests which was remarkably close to the pre-COVID experience.”

Guerreri said some minor fine-tuning of protocols, primarily in terminals, was necessary for some aspects of the new and extensive health and safety guidelines that had been developed in-house over “months and months” with a range of experts, however, overall the adoption and implementation had been positive.

View MSC Cruises’ Health and Safety fact sheet with details here.

“We believe that these strict policies will help gradually drive demand for ocean cruises. We want to show that MSC Cruises is a safe option. And that the health and safety of guests, crew and the communities that our ships visit will be, and always has been, our number one priority and I think this is the lesson learned… that we can do it,” Guerreri told LATTE.

MSC Cruises’ return to operation voyages is currently limited to citizens of Schengen countries. The first sailing of MSC Grandiosa, which normally has a maximum capacity of 6,334 passengers, operated at 50% – a figure Guerreri said the cruise line was pleased with given the limited selling window for the cruise.

“This is a good point to consider because once approved by authorities to resume sailing we didn’t have a very long lead-time to sell, so this result was very satisfying.”

MSC Grandiosa in Genoa, Italy

During the relaunch phase, MSC Cruises has wound back its maximum capacity to 70% which will enable guests to have 10 square metres each, a figure MSC itself has set to ensure social distancing onboard.

Guerreri says as more time passes, and as people’s confidence increases and they realise that it is “safe to cruise”, occupancy rates will continue to improve.

He also cited favourable feedback on MSC Cruises’ new health and safety protocols from local travel advisors.

One travel manager provided feedback, saying: “We were on a travel industry Zoom [meeting] today and none of the protocols came close to what MSC Cruises are doing. I’m especially impressed with the second-tier COVID testing and what you have done with the shore excursions. When these cruises open to Australians, I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for MSC to be a leader in this.”

Guest also lauded MSC’s new plated buffet dining service, whereby they chose the food they want and it is dished to them to take back to their table.

“The process worked very well. We received a lot of positive feedback from this concept and, in some cases, guests preferred the new approach,” he said.

Lead image: MSC Grandiosa in port at Civitavecchia, Rome (credit: MSC Cruises/Facebook)

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