MSC Cruises committed to Gulf growth from Doha

Executive Chairman lauds partnership with Qatar Airways

MSC World Europa in Doha | Credit: MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises‘ Executive Chairman Pierfranceso Vago says Qatar will form a “very important destination” for the contemporary cruise line’s growth into new markets, confirming this season’s deployment from Doha is not a one-off to capitalise on World Cup demand.

Just days out from the kick-off of the highly-anticipated football tournament, speaking on Sunday from aboard the brand new and first of potentially four World-Class ships, MSC World Europa, Vago said “Qatar will become a destination and will be a home port” for the Italian cruise operator.

Qatar has chartered two MSC Cruises’ ships for the 2022 World Cup, acting as floating hotels in Doha – the 6,762-passenger MSC World Europa which was this morning joined at Doha Port by the 3,605-guest MSC Poesia. MSC itself is also stationing the 2,150-passenger MSC Opera in the Qatar capital as a hotel from this Sunday for the next month.

MSC World Europa and MSC Poesia, two of three floating hotels in Doha ahead of the World Cup.

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Vago said the three ships will provide an extra 10,000+ beds every night for fans, adding that the concept of floating hotels makes “absolute sense” for a destination about to welcome millions of soccer fans for the World Cup, avoiding the necessity for additional new construction of hotels that may struggle to fill rooms after The Cup.

The ships are fully booked for the first two weeks of the World Cup however the second two weeks have availability as demand will hinge on the countries that make the finals, Vago said.

“It’s a very good outcome,” he said.

Following the World Cup, MSC Cruises’ inaugural season from Doha will commence on 20 December, primarily operating a 7-day roundtrip itinerary to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas Island in the UAE, and Dammam in Saudi Arabia. The new flagship will then reposition from the Gulf region to the Mediterranean in late March 2023.

Next year’s season from Doha Port will be operated exclusively by the Meraviglia-Plus Class ship, MSC Virtuosa, which has a similar capacity to MSC World Europa at the 6,334-passengers.

Qatar Airways partnership

During an onboard media briefing aboard MSC World Europa prior to its Naming Ceremony, the MSC Cruises’ chief said the partnership with Qatar

Pierfrancecso Vago, Executive Chairman, MSC Cruises

Airways was fundamental to the success of Doha as a new market.

“We are global in our approach as a company but we are local how we operate in all the different geographic areas of the world,” he said.

“We have a long-term vision, like only a family can do, and we like to build deeper partnerships in the markets we operate.”

Vago said the alliance with Qatar Airways and its CEO, Akbar Al Baker was “a perfect example of how we cooperate and how we do partnerships together”.

Following in-depth speeches by both Vago and MSC Cruise’s CEO, Gianni Onorato, Al Baker opened his response by quipping “first and foremost, I’m known to always steal the show, but you already stole it.”

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker

“Secondly, I’m known to give very long speeches, which you already experienced,” he remarked to the audience’s amusement. “So I have to make my speech as short as possible.”

Al Baker, who is also the Chairman of Qatar Tourism, said that pre-COVID, Qatar welcomed over 150,000 passengers during its cruise season. Those numbers are expected to increase “as we return to normal, hopefully soon,” Al Baker added.

He said that since the beginning of cruising in Qatar, the destination has welcomed over 560,000 visitors and 182 port calls. For the 2021/22 cruise season, the number one source cruise market to Qatar was Italians, with 29 calls at Doha Port by two MSC Cruises’ vessels.

Qatar Airways operates to 150 destinations globally, including the major cruise cities internationally. 

“Our network plays a key role in connecting MSC Cruises’ passengers to the most sought-after destinations and authentic experiences here in Doha,” Al Baker said.

“This is an absolute perfect partnership that will give us the opportunity to work together, but most importantly, is to develop the tourism industry and the inbound tourists to my country.”

Al Baker also made a cheeky response to comments from Vago in relation to capacity on the Arabia voyages, which currently sits at 93% occupancy.

The Qatari airline and tourism chief joked, “I would like to make him a little bit disappointed, that Qatar Airways is full during November and December.”

In a sign of the strength of their partnership, MSC Cruises gave Her Excellency, Sheikha Hind bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Vice Chairperson and CEO of the Qatar Foundation, the honour of naming MSC World Europa at the Naming Ceremony in Doha on Sunday night.

LATTE is in Doha as a guest of MSC Cruises, Qatar Tourism and Qatar Airways.

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