MSC Cruises is set to launch a “multi-million pound” ad campaign across four media platforms to help drive sales including new-to-cruise bookings.
The campaign, ‘Time to MSC Cruise again’, is due to start on June 1 accompanied by a Calvin Harris track and will air on TV, video-on-demand, radio and print media.
Almost 55% of the passengers on board MSC Virtuosa’s maiden voyage had never cruised before and the line is keen to continue this booking trend throughout the Meraviglia-plus vessel’s UK summer season, which includes more than 50 turnarounds.
For the first time, MSC has added multiple UK embarkation ports – including Liverpool and Greenock – to make sailings more accessible. The first sailing with the two ports included is on June 9.
Speaking on MSC Virtuosa on Sunday (May 23), director of sales Steve Williams said: “This [campaign] is to showcase MSC Virtuosa to the UK. We’re up and operational and we’ve gained a lot of positive press through the mainstream media so consumers will be seeing that MSC is back and they can cruise again.
“There’s a call to action to drive people to our trade partners to get in and get booking. We’re appealing to the whole of the UK that we’re making [sailings] accessible and affordable.”
Williams added that the campaign was “an absolute departure” from anything the line had done before and would “appeal to a new audience”.
The campaign will run for four weeks before the line reviews whether or not to extend it. “It will be nice to see cruise back on TV again – in a positive way,” Williams added.
The surge of new-to-cruise bookings for MSC Virtuosa’s sailings has taken MSC’s UK sales team by surprise, said Williams.
“There was an expectation that it was going to be the regular cruisers that jumped on board at first,” he said. “It has taken us a bit by surprise and credit to agents they have been very smart with how they’ve marketed the product.
“They looked at their databases and identified the people who had looked at UK breaks and did some pieces for people that were looking at self-catering holidays.”
Williams highlighted Hays Travel and Barrhead Travel for their sales and said the line had also worked with new agencies.
He added: “Very quickly, when we opened for sales, we saw an awful lot of new retail agents. That happened organically.”
New GoCruise agent Graham Bishop, who relocated to Cornwall to set up his GoCruise & Travel with Graham business, is the top seller of MSC’s sailings at the franchise, according to Williams.
“If I look at the percentage of what we’re selling [across the MSC business], most weeks it is between 70% and 80% Virtuosa out of the UK,” Williams said.
“Before Virtuosa went on sale we were seeing strong demand for summer and winter 2022, but very quickly it slipped to 80% Virtuosa UK bookings. We’re doing very well.
“It was pretty much instant from the on-sale date and it has maintained ever since.”
MSC Virtuosa has the capacity to sail with 6,300 passengers but is currently operating with no more than 1,000 passengers, in line with current Covid-19 restrictions in the UK.
All passenger restrictions could be lifted on June 21, but Williams admitted that it was unlikely that Virtuosa would sail at full capacity this year.
He said: “I do not think anyone would feel comfortable with those volumes. I don’t think there will be any sailing with that [6,000 passengers] on this year. We would be happy with 60% to 80% across the season.
“Remember, we would normally have between 18 months to two years to sell but I’ve had five weeks so far. We are really comfortable with where we’re at. It’s going to keep me very busy throughout the summer keeping the sales going.”
The line is prepared to open sales on Mediterranean cruises on ships based in the region should restrictions get on June 21, Williams added.
“All of those ships could go into the mix – if Europe goes ahead,” Williams said.