Interview By : Andy Ogg, Editor for Travel Professional NEWS
Interviewing: Joe Jiffo, Vice President, MSC Cruises
MSC is no stranger to innovation, can you tell us how long the MSC Seaside concept has been in the works?
MSC Cruises has always strived to be an innovator in the cruise industry, continuously seeking new prototypes that offer different experiences for our guests. MSC Cruises officially signed the agreement to build MSC Seaside in 2014, and the ship has been in progress for more than three years, from beginning construction to her recent launch in December 2017. The ship embodies MSC Cruises’ passion for the sea with features that highlight the beauty of the open water and sunshine for our guests.
Can you go over some of your favorite features, amenities and attractions of the new MSC Seaside?
MSC Seaside’s design is truly an industry first, and we were thrilled to introduce something so innovative to the market. The design is intended to bring guests closer to the sea and help them enjoy the outdoors like never before. On board, guests enjoy one of the highest ratios of outdoor space at sea with features made specifically for enjoying cruising outdoors. Most iconic is MSC Seaside’s “beach condo” architecture and South Beach aft pool, inspired by the vibrant skyline of her homeport, Miami.
MSC Seaside also offers a variety of fun, thrilling activities for all ages. Guests can zip down four different waterslides in one of the most interactive aqua parks at sea, including slide boarding which combines a slide and interactive video game. And, for our most daring guests, MSC Seaside features the two longest zip lines at sea, allowing guests to fly across the ship at about 30 mph.
The mega ship has also embraced several new dining concepts on board, including another industry first. Pan-Asian pioneer Roy Yamaguchi has officially opened his first ever restaurant at sea on board MSC Seaside, Asian Market Kitchen. The concept houses three distinct restaurants offering something for every palate. Guests can choose to dine at the sushi, sashimi and raw bar, an a la carte pan-Asian restaurant or a Teppanyaki restaurant for a combination of dining and entertainment.
For those looking to rejuvenate themselves on vacation the MSC Aurea Spa has become the gold-standard of pampering at sea, and on MSC Seaside the MSC Aurea Spa is not only the largest on any ship in the fleet, but also the largest Balinese spa at sea, and offers more facilities than ever before. The MSC Seaside thermal area includes state-of-the-art saunas, a Geyser area, Salt Relax area, Snow Room, Hammam Room and Emotional Showers for the ultimate in relaxation.
What do you feel are the most unique differences that set MSC Seaside apart from the rest of the MSC fleet?
Each prototype that MSC Cruises has introduced is designed to meet different needs of various travelers, and the Seaside class of ships is the fifth prototype we have developed. MSC Seaside is the first of this class and the first ship MSC Cruises has developed at the Fincantieri Shipyard. The smart ship distinguishes herself from the rest of the MSC Cruises fleet not only in design, but also in on board offering. Overall, MSC Cruises’ offering is inspired by our Mediterranean heritage that guests cannot find elsewhere, such as our passion for food as well as our exceptional attention to detail. At the same time, we are experts in tailoring the on board experience to fit the needs of our guests in the region we are sailing.
For MSC Seaside in particular, she is the first ship to travel straight to North America from the ship yard and designed with North American travelers in mind. We’ve incorporated elements of the on board product experience to appeal to a North American audience, such as adding improv comedy as part of our entertainment and adapting our dining offerings, including our partnership with celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi.
We are incredibly excited to have introduced several outdoor-based features that distinguish MSC Seaside from the rest of MSC Cruises fleet. This includes the waterfront boardwalk on Deck 8, which is located lower to the sea than that of most ships and is the widest of any ship at sea. Extending off of the boardwalk are two glass-floor catwalks offering views straight down to the ocean and allowing guests to feel as though they are walking on water. And, perched high above the South Beach aft pool, the Bridge of Sighs raises guests into the ocean air as they stare down at the sea through the transparent floor. These outdoor features combined create even greater, and more thrilling, opportunities to appreciate the warm Caribbean sun become truly connected to the ocean during their cruise.
Technology continues to become more and more a part of a vacation, does MSC Seaside offer any new and innovative technology for guests on board?
MSC Cruises continues to incorporate leading technology in order to enhance and simplify the guest experience for a seamless, worry-free vacation. With technology partnerships with leading experts such as Deloitte Digital, Samsung, and Hewlett Packard Enterprises, MSC Cruises is aspiring to be the most innovative vacation experience for guests available.
MSC Seaside is the second ship to feature MSC for Me, MSC Cruises digital innovation program giving guests a customized experience to cater to their specific needs. With wearable technology, interactive screens throughout the ship, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, travelers of all ages can have a more personalized vacation experience. The MSC for Me NFC interactive bracelets allow guests to access their staterooms, make purchases easier, and book services, restaurants and excursions. The bracelets even give parents the comfort of being able find their children wherever they are on the ship, meaning the kids can play all day, and parents can enjoy some much-needed alone time.
Where will MSC Seaside be sailing for 2018?
MSC Seaside sails year-round from Miami to the Caribbean, exploring some of the region’s most popular ports of call in both the eastern and western Caribbean.
The release of MSC Seaside really is a step forward for the entire industry, can you share what we may see next from MSC?
MSC Seaside marked a key step in MSC Cruises broader expansion plan. We are currently in the midst of an industry-unprecedented nearly $12.4 billion investment plan for a total of 12 new ships to come into service between 2017 and 2026, nearly tripling our capacity, from 1.8 million guests to close to 5 million guests per year. Six of these 12 new ships will have come into service between June 2017 and November 2020, doubling MSC Cruises’ fleet capacity in just three and a half years.
While this expansion progresses, MSC Cruises has placed a significant focus on expansion in the North American market in order to better serve travelers and cruisers in the region. With the arrival of MSC Seaside, MSC Cruises now has two ships sailing from PortMiami, MSC Seaside and MSC Divina. And, MSC Meraviglia, the first of the Meraviglia class launched in June 2017, will journey to the U.S. for the first time in October 2019, offering several sailings from New York before home porting in Miami. This means that by the 2019-2020 winter season, the three most modern and sophisticated classes in MSC Cruises’ fleet – MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Meraviglia – will be serving the North American market.
MSC Cruises innovation will also continue well beyond the introduction of MSC Seaside. The second of the Seaside class of ships, MSC Seaview, will be introduced in June 2018 to the Mediterranean. And, we have already begun expanding the prototype with two new planned Seaside EVO ships, an evolution of the Seaside model. Additionally, MSC Cruises’ World Class is sure to be a game-changer and will be some of the largest ships in the industry, with the first one set to debut in 2022.
In just over a decade, MSC Cruises has become the 4th largest cruise operator worldwide and the fastest-growing, as demonstrated by our aggressive expansion plan.
In terms of training, does MSC offer any educational opportunities for Agents to familiarize themselves with your brand and products? If so, where should a Travel Professional find that information?
In 2017, we launched MSC Academy, our learning module to help agents successfully sell the MSC Cruises brand and increase their earning potential. The learning module, through Travel Agent University, takes agents through multiple courses, quizzes and checkpoints to learn MSC Cruises’ history, fleet and onboard experiences. Once the module is completed, agents can earn a variety of prizes and rewards. The Academy allows us to effectively educate all travel agents on MSC Cruises’ offerings, teach them how to effectively merchandise the brand, and provide updates and new information in a streamlined manner. Travel partners can access this tool at www.MSCAcademy.com.
In addition to MSC Academy, we understand that personal one-on-one time is key, especially for those working remote. With that in mind, our Business Development Managers frequently meet travel professionals for coffee and host lunch and learns in their area, while always trying to coordinate around their busy schedules. We also provide marketing tools like cobranded flyers and customized videos that they can create and access at no cost through our dedicated travel agent website, www.msccruisesagent.com. Ultimately, our goal is to support our partners’ great ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, while offering them concrete tools to effectively grow their business.
What advice do you offer to a Travel Professional looking to grow their business with your brand?
With an approximate $12.4 billion investment in place, and a plan to introduce 11 new ships to the market by 2026, there will be no slowing down for MSC Cruises over the next several years. 2017 proved to be a banner year since we introduced the new MSC Meraviglia, christened in June, and MSC Seaside launched in Miami in December. And, this year, we are already gearing up for more growth with the introduction of MSC Seaview in June 2018.
This incredible growth presents such an exciting opportunity for our agents to grow their business alongside MSC Cruises, with more product to choose from offering MSC Cruises distinct Mediterranean-inspired cruising experience.
Travel agents also stand to gain from recommending a cruise as an option for groups of all kinds. Cruises offer simplicity and ease for groups large or small looking to travel together, and agents can capitalize on those benefits and drive profitable bookings in that segment. MSC Cruises has something for every group, no matter how diverse. Through a range of experiences, activities for every type of traveler, and unique destinations, there are options suit every vacation vision, desire and budget.
We already have an extremely positive outlook for 2018, and we are eager to work with our dedicated partners to make this year the most mutually profitable yet.