Italian cruise line MSC has thrown down the challenge to its rivals by pledging to treble the number of British passengers it carries within three years.
The ambitious target – to increase its UK market to 200,000 guests by 2017 – follows the announcement of four new megaships adding 21,000 berths to its fleet.
MSC will also charter its own weekly British Airways flights to Venice and Genoa next year, helping fill the six ships it already operates from those ports.
The company’s executive director for UK and Ireland, Giles Hawke, said: ‘We intend to become a significant player in the UK cruise market in readiness for our new ships beyond 2017. That means making it easy for people to experience a cruise with us.
‘We are also increasing our flying commitment from the UK for our Dubai winter programme and adding flight capacity to the Caribbean for winter 2015/16.’
The announcement will fuel the battle for British passengers whose numbers have flatlined recently at around 1.7million a year after a decade of rapid growth.
P&O Cruises is launching its Britannia flagship in Southampton next March, followed by Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas in the same port a month later. Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess is moving to Southampton and Royal Caribbean is also sending its biggest ship, Allure of the Seas, to Barcelona next year, partly to capture some of the British fly/cruise market.
MSC is launching two of its new ships in 2017, followed by one more in 2018 and another in 2019. It claims that offering its own charter flights will make cruising in the Med easier to book and better value. A new pricing structure will ensure holidaymakers who book early always get the best deals and be offered upgrades and other incentives.
To cope with the expected rise in demand, the company has upgraded its call centre technology and is taking on more reservations staff at its London HQ.
MSC Cruises is already the world’s third-largest cruise operator and claims to lead the way in many European and worldwide markets. The four ships on order represent an investment of more than €2.3billion (£1.8billion/$3.1billion) and will take the fleet to 16 with a capacity of more than 61,000 guests. The cruise line also has an option for three more ships for delivery by 2022.
To woo travel agents, MSC is offering higher commission payments, increased marketing funds, a faster and better sales platform and extra training.
Shipmonk has been shortlisted as best blog in the 2015 Cruise International awards. To vote, please click here (last category)