Monday, 2 December 2013

MSC Cruises USA's Rick Sasso

MSC Cruises USA's Rick Sasso

By Tom Stieghorst
Rick SassoRick Sasso was appointed president of MSC Cruises USA in 2004. Earlier this month he spoke about MSC and its 3,502-passenger MSC Divina's year-round presence in North America with cruise editor Tom Stieghorst.

Q: Can the importance to MSC of homeporting Divina in Miami be overstated?

A:
 We've been gearing up for this for about a decade now as we started to introduce ships during the winter season only. Now we've made that decision to position our strongest hardware, a remarkable ship, and she'll be very competitive here in this market.

Q: How have agents reacted to the Divina?

A:
 We've just recently concluded an advisory board meeting, which represents about 80% of the cruise traffic that gets produced here in North America, and these very select, high-profile sellers of travel are very enthusiastic with us. They have offered their fullest support knowing that we're bringing such a magnificent ship and we're going to be here with some continuity.

Q: What type of agents are you focusing on the most?

A:
 You have to have more than one front. You have to make sure you're with the online producers, because that's what the consumers are using very frequently to search for cruises, to book cruises. So you have to have your hand very tight on the big online guys. But there's also a lot of opportunity in the group arena and the retail arena. We have done a good job penetrating the likely producers of groups and those who are looking for magnificent ships in the premium-plus category, and even those who want a luxury component, because we have Yacht Club on the Divina, as we do on the other three ships that also feature the Yacht Club. So I think we're now able to set up a little more penetration for those who are looking for a very high-quality product.

Q: Agents say they have to focus their business, and that means selling the cruise lines that have a big presence in North America. Your response?

A:
 I don't think that's something unusual. When you have the gorillas in the marketplace that have dozens of ships in one marketplace like North America year-round, there's certainly a lot activity going on and a lot of relationships. But we offer an extraordinary alternative, because we are a serious group of managers, there's incredible talent in our organization, so they like working with people they can trust. They also know that we are growing, that we have a presence in Europe, we're the No. 1 cruise line in the Mediterranean in Europe. And that alone is a lot of source [business] in North America that's going on for those products.

Q: A travel agent said, "I did send some of my clients over on MSC and they came back and said, 'This isn't our cup of tea.'"

A:
 I think that was probably very, very true three years ago, not so true two years ago and a lot less a year ago, and today we have taken the steps to actually re-engineer the product. So there's very few places to smoke on board. There is a very strong emphasis on all the culinary items that an American would want, whether they're cruising in Europe or cruising in the Caribbean. We've super-trained our crew in fluent English, there is an abundance of TV channels in the cabins, and we really take quality and service as a main priority now.

So I think we are a different cruise line than we were 12 months ago, and if you have some comments of a historical perspective, they can now start seeing the new MSC. And [after] Divina comes on Nov. 20, people are going to start talking about that