The pandemic has increased customer demand for no-fly cruises, says the UK boss of MSC Cruises, as the line unveiled its longest ex-UK season in its history.
MSC Virtuosa will offer 20 departures from Southampton from April until October when it will leave the UK and be replaced by another to-be-confirmed MSC vessel. Destinations the line will sail to from the UK include the Baltics, Norwegian Fjords and the Mediterranean.
UK and Ireland managing director Antonio Paradiso told a Travel Weekly webcast 2022 is the “best offering” MSC had ever made in the UK.
He said: “Even before the pandemic, ex-UK sailings represented about 50% of the business in the UK for MSC.
“There’s always been a strong appetite for the ex-UK sailings; I think the pandemic has furthered increased such an appetite.”
Paradiso called ex-UK cruising a “hassle-free” experience for Brits, adding: “More and more people now are picking the easiest option, and ex-UK sailings are definitely an easy option.”
He outlined how MSC was committed to providing passengers with an improvement on the experience they had last summer, when Virtuosa offered round-Britain cruises from May to September.
“We need to be agile and adapt,” said Paradiso, adding: “Ideally, we want to provide a better experience than this summer. This summer there were so many restrictions it affected the cruise experience that historically we provided our customers.
“I like to think that, by the time we get to April and May, things will be much better and we’ll be able to carry out many of the activities that we’re very well-known for.”
Looking ahead to next spring, Paradiso said MSC’s passengers would have to be vaccinated against Covid and “other measures” would still be in place.
But he added that passengers would probably be able to leave the ship independently outside of a designated MSC shore excursion.
“The message is still ‘expect there to be some measures’ but I don’t expect them to be as drastic as last summer,” he said. “We adapted the ship and the protocols depending on what was happening out there in the world.
“We need to be cautious right now. We must never underestimate the enemy which is Covid.”
Asked whether MSC’s trade distribution had grown, Paradiso confirmed it had and explained that Virtuosa’s ex-UK sailings are an easy-sell for agents.
“If you’re selling products from the UK you have access to wider distribution because there’s no package involved,” he said, adding Virtuosa’s 2022 sailings were “a massive opportunity” for agents.
“It’s a cruise-only product. That’s much easier to sell as long as you’re familiar with the ship and know what’s in the customer’s package.”