It was just announced that MSC Group, owner of MSC Cruises, is starting a brand new, still unnamed, Luxury/Premium cruise line (my definition!). This new cruise line will be the new home of – to start with – four 461 suite – all with balconies or terraces – 64,000 ton ships at a cost of $2 billion dollars. The line will start sailing in 2023 and apparently has plans to possibly expand to a total of ten ships by 2030.
While I do not – yet – have any more information on these ships, I did want to take a moment to put them into perspective. The ships will be approximately the same size as the Oceania Marina/Riveria sisters, which has 625 staterooms and suites compared to the MSC ships which will have 461 suites…or 25% fewer guests in the same amount of space. This results in three very important things:
(1) Larger and more luxurious accommations;
(2) More and diverse public areas (restaurants, lounges, etc.); and,
(3) More space for fewer guests.
But, as I always say, what really makes a cruise line is not the hardware, but the software. And MSC has, as Cruise Industry News calls it, hired “big name executives” to run the new cruise line.
At the top of my enthusiastic list is Chris Austin, the recent former Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for Seabourn Cruise Line and prior thereto the Vice President, Global Leisure, Luxury and TMC Sales for Starwood Hotels; twice being awarded Top Luxury Executive of the Year by Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine (once for each position). You can understand why he tops my list of the “big names”!
Before I get to the other “big names”, for me, one of the biggest faults in the cruise industry is the lack of fresh faces with fresh perspectives and ideas, as they usually hire within either the same corporate umbrella or grab a competitor’s. I am very encouraged by the mix of luxury hotel and cruise experience coupled with experience dealing “with” cruise lines as opposed to “as” cruise lines. More on those folks in a bit!
I can now mention that Chris and I have had some theoretical conversations, before the announcement, about my likes, dislikes, and feelings about “nickel and diming” in the cruise industry as to both the traveler and travel agent. These discussions made me extremely curious as to where he had gone after leaving Seabourn and where he was going with the new position…while he kept very tight-lipped about where he landed…and MSC was definitely not on my radar!
When I heard a rumor in the trades that it was MSC I became even more enthusiastic because MSC Cruises (which will remain separate) has some of the most beautiful and creative cruise ships at sea coupled with some amazing itineraries that the North American market just doesn’t have any ready access to (such as Tunisia, Albania, Morocco and more).
In addition to that, its parent, MSC Group, is highly diverse with its primary business actually having been in shipping (Mediterranean Shipping Company), so there is a strong financial backing. (BTW, MSC Cruises was started by buying up old cruise ships and fixing them up while they built new ones…and they have been very creative.)
Ironically, though, a stumbling block with MSC Cruises from my perspective is a mixed product (one product when the ships sail in Europe and another when they are in the Caribbean), the biggest issue for me was way too much of the aforementioned “nickel and diming”. So when Chris spoke to me about the new line focusing on eliminating them not only for the traveler but the travel agent, well…
OK, now as for the other “big names”:
Chief Marketing Officer is Sarah Doyle, who has a long history of working luxury brand partnerships with Bacardi Limited Europe, Starwood, W Hotels, and involvement with American Express Centurion and Platinum cardmember programs.
John Stoll, the Destination Experience Advisor – has over a quarter-century of creating shore excursions for Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises assuring the line will not be simply offering “the same old same old” when combined with the more unique offerings already available with it sister-brand MSC Cruises.
Thatcher Brown, Commercial and Strategic Advisor, headed Dream Cruises and Crystal Cruises in Asia for Genting after spending time on marketing and brand development for Fairmont Hotels and Jumeriah Group. I like this Asia/Arabia experience in the mix…and wonder where that may lead!
Rounding out this initial time is Sacha Rougier, Head of Itinerary Planning and Shore Experience. This, to me, is a most interesting hire, as she was in charge of the Hamburg, Germany cruise, including the construction of two cruise terminals, and before then worked for the Port of Marseille.
So there you have it: A new cruise line in the all-suite luxury (premium?) market with some very well experienced and diverse luxury “big names” started by a shipping/cruise behemoth with a recent history of creative and beautiful ships, now focused on creating the ultimate in cruising and travel experiences.
I will update you as I find out more. I hope you are as enthusiastic as I am!