MSC sets course for 'UK comeback'
Photo Credit Dave Jonesby Natasha Salmon
MSC Cruises plans to double its UK sales team as it aims for growth in the UK market, Natasha Salmon reports from the line's new offices in west London
MSC Cruises has pledged allegiance to the trade as it plans to double its sales team ahead of a planned “huge comeback” in the UK market.
The operator says it has set its sights on helping the UK reclaim its position as the largest cruise market in Europe having been overtaken by Germany.
Speaking at MCS’s new offices in Uxbridge, UK managing director Antonio Paradiso and sales director Steve Williams said strengthening its team of account managers was key.
Paradiso said: “MSC will be making a huge comeback in the UK as the British market really matters to us. We have had the opportunity to develop the German market and it has overtaken Britain in the rankings. We want to get the UK back to number two in the world [behind the US].
“The size of the market is always going to be linked to the capacity you have at sea, and as we have 11 ships coming in the next 10 years, we want 3.6 million European passengers by 2024.”
This year MSC operated six sailings from Southampton on MSC Splendida, the line’s first UK departures for two years.
The family‑owned line will launch the 4,500-capacity MSC Meraviglia next year and the first of its new Seaside-class ship in 2018.
Paradiso said he wants MSC to become one of the top-three cruise lines in the UK and has tasked Williams with growing the sales team from six to 14 following his switch from rival Royal Caribbean.
“It is a huge opportunity to restructure a sales business in a way that really gives British and Irish cruise agents what they expect,” said Williams.
“We will have a team of regional sales managers covering the UK to grow our presence on the ground, where we were weaker before, especially with high street agents.
“They will be overseen by a head of retail. Plus, I will also have a team of national account managers who will focus on supporting cruise specialists. We’re keen to build great relationships with the consortia and multiples too.”
Another area Williams will be assessing is commission and MSC’s agent reward scheme, with an individually focused loyalty scheme under consideration.
“There is a base commission but we are reviewing the whole commercial structure,” he said.
“We will work with business owners to discuss what rewards and commission are appropriate for their companies. Currently, we don’t believe a blanket scheme is the right way for us, but this will develop as our regional account managers work with frontline staff.”
Agent engagement will be enhanced with more ship visits in Scotland, Ireland and Southampton as well as more fam trips and a new online training platform.
Paradiso stressed agents remain the priority for a line that sees just 2% of its business come direct.
“We are aware that some of the larger cruise lines are adopting aggressive approaches to drive direct business. We have no intention to do this,” he said.
“We have a contact centre in the UK, so if people want to book direct with us they can, but the trade remains our key priority.”
On price, Paradiso said: “We are starting a journey to become more popular and the prices will reflect that. There will always be value for money, but we offer premium cruises as well with our Yacht Club.”
As part of a drive to make UK agents feel like they are part of “the MSC family”, the line will host 50 agents at Travel Weekly’s Globe Travel Awards 2017 in January.