As the longing for cruise travel grows, everyone is looking forward to the start of the tours. So what awaits us in the new world order. All in our exclusive interview with Achille Staiano, MSC Global Vice President of Sales …

How did the pandemic affect the operations on cruise lines? What precautions have you taken to ensure the safety of your guests and crew?

All industries – not just those of us in travel and tourism – were deeply impacted and for the cruise industry, so much so that we saw a complete halt of operations globally. Because, att MSC Cruises, our initial priority was to get our guests home safely as soon as possible and repatriate our crew.

We established a blue-ribbon panel of external experts in the fields of medicine and public health to help with our own internal work and we engaged extensively with authorities from the European Union, national and regional authorities, ports and destinations to create a protocol that encompassed all of their requirements, and with some additional health measures of our own.

The initial precautionary steps of the protocol were universal COVID-19 testing at embarkation, weekly testing of crew, social distancing on board, the wearing of masks in public areas, protected shore excursions and increased sanitation measures as well as sailing with a reduced capacity to ensure social distancing.

How do you plan to maintain the same standard on your trips in the ports you visit?

Going ashore is a really important and enjoyable aspect of a cruise holiday From that fundamental philosophy we devised the concept of a protected excursion. In order to make these excursions a reality, we contacted each and every tour operator, transfer provider and individual attractions to properly vet and put in place the right health and safety measures. First and foremost, it’s worth saying that all of our shore excursions – for now – are MSC Cruises organised visits with the same high standards of health and safety as on board. When guests leave a ship to make a protected shore visit they undergo a temperature check before disembarkation and we arrange staggered departure times and provide dedicated gangways to avoid congestion. Buses and coaches used for excursions are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after every use and specific seats are assigned at the time of booking with seats left between families and groups to allow for social distancing. Tour guides and drivers all follow the same, strict protocol to keep guests safe – for example they have their temperature checked before they start their work and all wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and regularly sanitise their hands. Naturally, they have all been health screened previously and provided negative results to COVID-19 tests. At the attractions we visit, we plan in advance to reserve areas for our own guests and make sure that they follow social distancing guidelines, wear their facemasks and sanitise their hands regularly. Finally, guests all have their temperature checked when they return to the ship after their tour. 

Could you tell us about the measures and practices you have taken to make your ships more environmentally friendly?

The current dependence in the global cruise industry on fossil fuels for powering our means that decarbonisation is a major focus.  At MSC Cruises, our goal is to achieve zero emissions across all of our operations both at sea and ashore. We strive to continuously improve our fleet’s environmental performance and for every new ship we build, we seek future technologies that will help to minimise our environmental impact. Here are some examples of the technologies onboard our two new ships for 2021, MSC Virtuosa and MSC Seashore.  Both vessels are equipped with the very latest innovative and environmentally-advanced technologies.   Thanks to our special exhaust gas cleaning system, a selective catalytic reduction system, our advanced wastewater treatment systems, we assume liability with environment-friendly cruises. Training our crew, not only to handle waste, but to understand the importance of waste management, is central to what we do. Our crew members receive ongoing training to ensure they remain abreast of the highest standards and can inform our guests about the need to separate and recycle.

As MSC Cruises, your investments continue unabated. What would you like to say about this?

We hope to re-start more ships in markets around the world that we traditionally serve when local conditions permit us to do so.  We are in constructive discussions with governments in our key markets and are optimistic about our prospects for a more comprehensive resumption of our sailing programmes. We continue at MSC Cruises to see a strong appetite for cruising with positive booking trends for this year and into 2022. We have a sizeable future global investment portfolio of new vessels as we focus on building for growth in a safe and sustainable manner.

While the cruise world makes us smile with promising developments, questions such as when do the tours start and where will our first destination be, keep turning in our minds. We got the answers to these questions from MSC Cruises Country Manager, TurkeyBurak Çalışkan.

Which tours did cruise passengers miss the most?

During the pandemic process, everyone longed to take a vacation and spend time with their loved ones. I am quite sure that we have guests who miss this unique experience, especially traveling by cruise. I think we have guests who miss to travel to every region, as we offer the opportunity to travel in all seasons and almost everywhere in the world.

Could you provide a date on when the Cruise Tours will start?

Cruise tours started with Mediterranean programs organized by MSC Grandiosa, one of our newest ships, as of August 16, 2020. As a result of our successfully implemented health and safety protocol, we are restarting many of our tours in Europe. For now, we can only host citizens of the Schengen area. Our programs in Turkey will be begin as of November 2021.

Which destinations will be opened first?

As I have mentioned, we have begun the first tours in the European region. For now we will be in Eastern and Western Mediterranean as well as Northern Europe. In addition to this, we plan to position our 2 ships in Saudi Arabia, a first in the world at the end of the year.