Interview: Antonio Paradiso, MD UK and Ireland for MSC Cruises, explains how the group is growing at a rate of knots
Headquartered in Geneva, it has about 32,000 staff around the world, and says it has been expanding on average by 10 per cent each year, making it the fastest-growing cruise liner globally. “Currently, we’ve got 21 cruise ships within our fleet and a few more joining over the next few years,” Mr Paradiso adds. The firm is operating in an international cruise sector expected to be worth £15.1 billion (£12.8bn) by 2028, according to a report by US-based consultancy Grand View Research, Inc.
You have been growing your UK presence. What are the main drivers behind that?
About five or six years ago we started focusing on the UK market, and our business has gone from strength to strength over the last few years – even with the pandemic. More and more Brits are booking cruises with MSC Cruises – we’ve had the biggest month ever in January. That's pretty much down to the success of having ships sailing from Southampton year-round. Five years ago, we only had one ship calling at Southampton as little as four or five times a year. Now we have a ship sailing from there every week of the year.
What have been the main challenges? Covid had a devastating impact on the cruise industry...
While some companies understandably put investment on hold during the pandemic, this wasn’t the case at MSC Cruises. We’re strengthening our market position in line with customers’ growing appetite for cruising. We were the first to restart cruise operations from the UK in May 2021 despite the continuing restrictions and constraints. It was an emotional moment to see the crew cheer as guests boarded the first sailing and is something I’ll never forget.
How do you widen the appeal of cruising beyond its traditional image of retired, grey-haired couples?
We’re always working towards giving our customers even more choice in terms of destinations and cruise ships since they are all different. One of our newest ships, MSC World Europa, is proving a hit with families thanks to the facilities and activities that we’ve designed for this demographic.
I’m really passionate about our diverse range of shore excursions – one of these being the MSC Protectours – our excursions designed with sustainability in mind. This forms part of our wider sustainability plan but also gives our guests the chance to participate in a series of eco-friendly activities, whether it’s tree-planting or beach-cleaning.
Can you explain more about how you tackle energy and environmental hurdles?
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, sustainability has remained a key focus for us, which we’ve been addressing on several fronts to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This has been our goal for the past few years, along with also reducing total carbon emissions intensity by 40 per cent by 2030. Right now, we’ve reduced the intensity by 35 per cent versus the 2008 levels, so we're on track to reach our target and may even surpass the 2030 checkpoint.
Of course this comes with a lot of work and investments, especially when it comes to the building of ships. With each new ship, we try to improve all the technology and processes currently in place to get us closer to our goals more quickly. We even have an internal committee that focuses on all aspects of the ship. They look at everything from recycling all the material we have on board, to the type of materials used to build new ships, for example. Most importantly for us, though, is finding the best fuel for powering our vessels.
MSC World Europa is a great example of this research and development and we believe it is the most environmentally advanced cruise ship in the world. It’s powered by liquefied natural gas, which reduces carbon emissions by 25 per cent compared to traditional diesel fuels, greatly reduces nitrogen oxides, and nearly eliminates sulphur oxide emissions.
But it doesn’t stop there. It's also about scrutinising resource use and waste, supporting our people, investing in sustainable tourism, localising our supply chain, and building greener cruise terminals. We have our work cut out for us – but our sustainability committee keeps us all in check and monitors our progress every year.
Another thing I’d like to mention is the environmental projects that we support, one being Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, a private island in The Bahamas. We bought the island and have spent six years bringing it back to life. We’ve removed 1,510 tonnes of scrap metal, and restored more than 460 corals beneath the water, for example. Some of our Caribbean itineraries include a four-day stop at the island.
Where does the UK and more specifically Scotland fit in? And where are the other global hotspots?
The Scottish market is a really important one for us, with about 22 per cent of our total UK customers coming from north of the Border. We’re seeing that Scots are loving our mini cruises departing from Southampton and those to warmer climates in the Mediterranean. Our most popular cruise booked by Scots is our 14-night cruise from Southampton to destinations including Portugal, Spain and France. I’m also really excited that we have our very first “fly and cruise” package launching in Scotland with direct flights from Edinburgh to New York.
One of my personal favourite itineraries is from Southampton to the Fjords – and it looks like the Scots agree with me. I have done a fair share of travelling in my time and there is nothing more beautiful than the Nordics. There is a sailing from the UK all the way up to Iceland and Norway with stops at Greenock and Stornoway in Scotland, which I can highly recommend.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.