The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the travel industry and arguably the sector hardest hit has been cruise.
In March, almost four months ago, the global suspension of sailings began. This paralysed the cruise industry as it was forced to cancel thousands of sailings for the foreseeable future.
In spite of this, one cruise line in particular does not seem to have allowed this massive blow to phase them. While some cruise companies have had to cancel sailings into 2021, MSC Cruises recently announced plans to resume sailings this October with 14 out of its 17 ships as part of its winter 2020/2021 programme.
Speaking at Expedia Group’s webinar, ‘Rebound and Recovery: How will the UK travel industry bounce back?’, MSC Cruises’ UK and Ireland managing director, Antonio Paradiso, discussed candidly how the industry had experienced a difficult phase one, dealing with the cancellation of sailings and customer refunds, but had now entered a more positive phase two.
“Phase two is definitely more optimistic,” he said, confidently. “We will be restarting 14 ships out of 17 from October and these operations will be taking place in different parts of the world. We are also not giving up on the option of restarting even earlier if possible.
“The Med is slowly opening up again as destinations including Spain, Italy, Montenegro and Croatia are in different stages of this pandemic and are ahead of the UK, so I am confident opportunities will open up in the next few weeks.”
The MD stressed how one of the biggest challenges for the industry is coming up with a unified set of health and safety guidelines that can apply to the entire sector globally.
“We have to sit down with all governments and they all have slightly different views, so it’s a waiting game,” he said. “We are doing everything we can as a brand and as an industry to meet everyone’s requirements.”
MSC Cruises has revealed that it is currently working on a new and comprehensive set of enhanced health and safety protocols in collaboration with relevant national health authorities and with the support of a team of external medical experts, the details of which will be announced shortly.
The measures will cover all aspects of the cruise from the booking phase through to disembarkation and the return home, as well as all aspects of life onboard to ensure the health and wellbeing of guests and crew.
Of course, Paradiso stressed how the cruise industry already had many of these health and safety measures in place, but it is now about strengthening and enhancing them post-Covid-19.
In terms of the future, Paradiso is confident that the cruise industry will not only bounce back, but will offer an even better experience for customers than it did before.
“Resilience is key,” he said. “Problems and challenges you face give you the opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
“The new world of cruising will be enhanced. As a travel industry, we were doing an amazing job before but now we can elevate the whole set of protocols.
“And I’m pretty confident in saying that in the future we can surpass customer expectations. The cruise industry is constantly under the spotlight, but what we have demonstrated again and again is that we have always gone above and beyond to work with local authorities and to surpass customer expectations.
“This is what will help us pass through this situation.”
MSC Cruises’ winter 202o/21 season
MSC Cruises’ winter 2020/2021 season includes more than 90 itineraries across the Caribbean, Mediterranean, the Gulf, South Africa, South America and Asia.
Itineraries range in length from two to 24 nights, along with the third MSC World cruise, departing in January 2021, and an extensive Grand Voyages programme.
MSC Cruises added that the winter release is not an update of the line’s summer programme, which is currently paused until 31 July.
MSC Magnifica will sail her third world cruise, departing on 5 January 2021 for a 119-day journey visiting 53 destinations.
In the Mediterranean, MSC Grandiosa will replace sister-ship MSC Virtuosa for the winter, sailing seven-night Six Pearls western Mediterranean cruises, while MSC Magnifica will offer two festive voyages in December with a five-night Christmas cruise.
For the Caribbean, MSC Meraviglia will sail every Saturday from Miami and MSC Armonia, homeporting in Miami, will offer three, four or seven-night cruises to Key West, Nassau and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.
MSC Seaside will offer cruises from the new embarkation port of Port Canaveral, calling at a range of destinations, while MSC Poesia will replace MSC Splendida, to serve the South Caribbean and the Antilles.
For Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, guests will sail on MSC Fantasia on seven-night itineraries. As for the South America region, MSC Seaview will sail seven-night cruises from Santos, Brazil, to the northeast of the country, while MSC Musica will sail seven-night departures and MSC Sinfonia eight or nine-night itineraries from Buenos Aires.
In addition, South Africa will be served by MSC Orchestra and the Far East by MSC Bellissima.
In spring 2021, nine ‘Grand Voyages’ will be available with ships returning from the Emirates, Brazil, South Africa, Martinique and the US, sailing to Europe for the start of the summer 2021 season.
A full list of itineraries can be found at msccruises.co.uk.