MSC Cruises planning bigger presence down under

Will new-build ship MSC World Asia operate from Australia?

MSC Cruises appears poised to operate its third World Class ship, World Asia, in Australian waters from as early as 2026/2027, as the world’s third largest cruise line looks to expand its global reach into untapped markets. That scenario hinges on MSC Cruises continuing to increase demand in this market for its fly/cruise program, and expanding brand awareness locally, says a senior executive of the company.

Construction of MSC Cruises’ third World Class ship commenced a month ago at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard. Like sister ships MSC World Europa (launched in 2022) and MSC World America (debuting in 2025), MSC World Asia will pay homage to another continent. MSC World Asia will feature signature design touches, experiences and features inspired by Asia. At this stage, MSC remains tight-lipped as to where the ship will operate.

Speaking exclusively with LATTE while in Sydney last month, Antonio Paradiso, Vice President of International Sales for MSC Group’s Cruise Division hinted at a possible positioning of MSC World Asia to Australia, or another modern ship in the fleet, as capacity in Europe approaches peak levels.

The steel cutting for MSC World Asia in April 2024

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With 18 years’ experience at MSC Cruises, since late January 2024 Paradiso has overseen Australia, South Africa and Scandinavia, on top of his prior role as Managing Director for the UK and Ireland of MSC Cruises and Explora Journeys. Paradiso reports to Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, while Lisa Teiotu, MSC Cruises’ Commercial Director for Australia and New Zealand, reports directly to Paradiso. As do MSC’s Country Managers for Scandinavia and South Africa.

On his first whirlwind visit to Australia last month to meet MSC Cruises’ local team, Paradiso told LATTE he sees “so much potential in the Australian market that we haven’t exploited yet”.

“We’re still relatively new as far as Australia is concerned. Not because we haven’t been operating here for years, but in terms of priority on our agenda. Now Australia is really moving up the rank,” he said.

There’s a real focus from us on this market. There’s an appetite here.”

The Australian cruise market is dominated by regional cruising, Paradiso says, and MSC Cruises is aspiring to have a slice of that business too. For years MSC Cruises has included Australia on its world voyages but has never based a ship seasonally in the region.

From left: Brigita Devries, Sales Manager; Antonio Paradiso, Vice President of International Sales MSC Cruises & Explora Journeys; Lisa Teiotu, Managing Director; Arnaud Michelin, Operations & Contact Centre Manager; and Michelle Warren, Marketing Manager.

“Everything is where it should be right now but you can appreciate that I want MSC Cruises, and Explora Journeys, to be one of the major brands in this country as well. To do that we need to work hard, strengthen our bond with the trade community, and be more engaging in terms of marketing and how we position the brand.

“There’s some untapped opportunities here that I’m very excited to explore.”

“We want to make sure that we become the reference brand of many cruisers here in Australia and New Zealand,” he said boldly.

Pressed about the likelihood of a seasonal deployment in this region, Paradiso said that in terms of availability, Sydney is not the “easiest port in the world” to access, “which makes it a bit more complicated.”

“Is Australia going to be included in most itineraries in this part of the world? Probably yes. If we are thinking about a full season of domestic cruises we need to a) build a market for that, and b) strengthen our organisation – but I’m not ruling anything out.

“A perfect example, only six years ago if you asked me the same question about the UK, will we ever see an MSC ship sailing from UK shores? Now, not only do I have a ship sailing in summer, I have a ship sailing all year round, because we had the opportunity to build that business.”

“Here, what I’m saying is one step at a time. Let’s continue to build the fly-cruise market.”

Paradiso did hint there will likely be some “exciting news” in around a year for this market. “Of course we’re keeping an eye on Asia, and this part of the world.”

“We have 14 ships in Northern Europe and the Med. Asia, specifically Japan, South Korea, China… we’re already sailing ships there but we are paying more attention to Southeast Asia, and so why not Australia?”

“I cannot say yes or no at this stage, the only thing I can say is watch this space.”

“Australia is definitely going to be included in itineraries for both world cruises and potentially as part of some new deployments that we can unlock for 2026. Let’s take it one step at a time.

“We’re already testing the waters in Japan, we are growing stronger in China and South Korea, Southeast Asia… so my job will involve making sure the brand is strong here in Australia. We lay the foundations first.”

“This is a part of the world worth exploiting. Europe for different reasons is kind of shrinking, so we need to look elsewhere. And also it’s based on consumer demand. Once a client has done the Caribbean, or they’ve done Europe, they’re looking for something new,” he said.

“I have lots of confidence and enthusiasm when it comes to Australia.”

From left: Shubham Singh, Revenue Management Analyst; Michelle Warren, Marketing Manager; Antonio Paradiso, Vice President of International Sales MSC Cruises & Explora Journeys; Brigita Devries, Sales Manager; Lisa Teiotu, Managing Director AU/NZ and Arnaud Michelin, Operations & Contact Centre Manager.

MSC World Asia is slated to enter service in 2026. A reasonable prediction for the 22 decks, 2,600+ cabins and suites mega-ship could see it deployed in Asia during the northern summer, and Australia & New Zealand during the northern winter. MSC World Asia will be the fourth LNG ship to join the MSC Cruises fleet which, however, could limit a local positioning in Australia due to the lack of LNG facilities for ships at present.

UK/Australia market similarities

As the Managing Director of MSC Cruises and Explora Journeys for the UK and Ireland, Paradiso says his appointment in January as VP of International Sales has provided an opportunity to focus more on the Australian market.

He says there are “many similarities” with the UK market in terms of behaviour, enabling the sharing of best practices. Those similarities include the same booking window of one to two years (compared to Europeans who tend to book 6-9 months ahead of departure date), buying habits on board (drinks packages, entertainment, shopping), destinations and interests.

“The UK market is very mature. We’ve been testing things for years and years, so we know what works and what doesn’t work. There’s an opportunity for us to share some of that knowledge with our colleagues here in Australia.”

“I see an opportunity to have greater synergy between our colleagues from Europe and Australia,” he added.

MSC Yacht Club Restaurant, MSC Seascape

Travel trade importance

Paradiso praised the global travel advisor network, saying MSC Cruises has “always had a strong bond with the trade”.

“In most markets, the trade still remains the largest share of the business and that will continue to grow. We have an ongoing engagement with the trade, be it webinars, ship visits, fam trips. We are very generous in terms of commercial, and I’m a strong advocate of the trade.

“I am of the belief you can not be a success without the trade.”

“Travel agents are at the heart of what we do because they are our biggest messengers. They are the ones sharing their knowledge, sharing their passion, so that’s why they are so important to us. We will continue to support them the best way we can.”

“The travel advisor community has always been our strongest asset we have. MSC is what it today is thanks to the travel advisors,” he told LATTE.

“We appreciate what they’ve done for us over the years, and the reason we are strong in so many countries is due to the strength of our local trade connections.”

World Galleria, MSC World Europa

Demographic average age getting younger

Paradiso also confirmed that the average age of an MSC Cruises passenger is getting younger, now at 43 (globally), down from 46-plus. The average age for an Australian MSC Cruise passenger is around 50.

“We already had probably the youngest demographic on our ships, but I’ve seen the age continue to drop and I think that’s down to new generations are now willing to experience cruises.

“We have a strong position on social media – we’re big on Facebook, active on Instagram, TicToc… even the way we present our content is vastly different to what we did in the past. We’re definitely attracting that younger demographic. Younger customers, younger families, couples. It’s exciting.”

“We’re seeing more and more youngsters booking World Europa because its modern and very trendy in Europe. Cruisers want to try the newest hardware,” he said.

“The evolution of the ships over the years – from the Musica class to the World class – it’s 20 years of progress and going to another level.”

Paradiso suggested the sliding demographic was likely driven by the pandemic and appealing to different audiences.

“Our new-to-cruise business has never been so high – the only good thing to eventuate from COVID. MSC was the first cruise line to restart after the pandemic, initially in the Mediterranean. For three months, we were alone. In 2021, 51% of customers were new-to-cruise, and a fair share of that volume became repeat clients.”

MSC World Europa in Doha | Credit: MSC Cruises

What’s hot?

According to Paradiso, Europe is MSC Cruises’ number one destination, including significant growth in Northern Europe.

“More and more Australians are sailing out of Southampton now,” he said, accessing destinations such as the Canary Islands, the Fjords or Iceland, offering itineraries ships based in the Mediterranean don’t offer as yet.

“Business for Europe is booming,” Paradiso said.

“MSC has the largest offering in Europe by far. We have more destinations and more ships than any other cruise brand in the world. We cover everything in Europe which is important for the repeater market, which accounts for 30% of our customers.”

“We are big is so many markets now. MSC Cruises is now strong in more than 50 countries. In Europe, we are miles ahead, and our capacity in the Caribbean continues to grow every-day,” he concluded.

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