|Ken Muskat, MSC Cruises' new SVP of sales and marketing, North America // Photo by MSC Cruises|
With 451 oceangoing cargo vessels worldwide, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is the second-largest such firm in the world. Its cruise division is perhaps the fastest growing worldwide; it operates 12 ships worldwide.
For the first time this year, MSC Cruises (www.msccruisesusa.com) will home port a ship, the 3,502-passenger MSC Divina, to sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean.
Yet, to many Americans and their travel agents, MSC Cruises is still not top of mind when booking a cruise vacation. But Ken Muskat, an 18-year Royal Caribbean International veteran, hopes to change that.
Last week he officially joined MSC Cruises’ as senior vice president for marketing and sales, North America.
Travel Agent talked with Muskat about his perspective on the line, his role and how travel agents fit in the mix.
Is there anything “different” he has learned about MSC Cruises that he didn’t know before?
“To be honest, as an outsider, I did not know much about MSC,” said Muskat. “This is one of the most exciting opportunities. MSC in North America is not a tremendously well-known brand, although the line has had one ship here each winter for the past few years.”
Muskat said that creating year-round awareness in North America is among the reasons the line will position MSC Divina to sail from Miami year-round later this year.
And while he didn’t know that much about the line previously, he was able to become very familiar with the onboard product as he sailed the past few months on MSC Poesia, MSC Preziona, MSC Divina and MSC Splendida.
“I experienced that and then after being here [on the job for a few days], I’m learning from the team,” Muskat said.
“MSC Cruises is one of the best kept secrets,” he said. “A lot of people are not familiar with it.”
He says there is a tremendous effort underfoot to make sure the MSC Divina launch this fall in North America will be a success. The company has sizable investment riding on positioning a large capacity ship in the Caribbean region year-round.
Muskat says two factors will help agents feel confident in selling the product. First, over the past few years, MSC Cruises has made gradual changes and improvements to make sure the onboard European-styled product also appeals to a North American audience.
Among the many “touches” added that North Americans like? “Having water in the dining room, for example, has not been an issue for the last two years,” he notes. Culturally, Europeans don’t typically serve water with dinner, but North Americans expect it. It's just one example of how the line is trying to appeal to Canadians and Americans.
In addition, “now that the MSC Divina is coming to North America year-round, “we are working right now on [even more upgrades to] the product to make it even a little more appealing to the North American audience,” Muskat emphasized.
He says the line is looking at everything in that regards including food and beverage, in-stateroom television, activities, entertainment and language; English will be the primary language spoken on the cruises departing from Miami, so guests won’t hear all the run-down of languages as they might on an MSC Cruises itinerary in the Mediterrranean.
The ship will also have an English-speaking cruise director. And, “we’ll be changing all the menus,” he stresses.
Agents will hear about the changes at CLIA's cruise3sixty, the annual conference which gets under way in Vancouver, BC, Canada, next week.
Muskat emphasizes, however, that while the line is making adjustments to make the product even more appealing for North Americans, agents should expect the line to keep its Mediterranean style and heritage for the ship.
Moving forward, MSC Cruises will focus on training and educating more travel agents about the product, how to communicate its attributes to potential clients, and how to best sell it and quality the client.
“There is an opportunity out there for people who haven’t sold MSC Cruises before,” Muskat said. Over the next few months, he and his team will visit with individual travel agencies, both in person and virtually, to explain the options.
Muskat says the best clients for his line are experienced cruisers, those who have sailed on another line, clients desiring a seven-night Caribbean product but, at the same time, people who also want something a little bit different.
He believes these clients will appreciate MSC Cruises' Mediterranean style of cruising, the cuisine and the relaxed atmosphere onboard. "It's a little slower atmosphere and gives guests a chance to enjoy life," he said.
|MSC Divina // Photo by MSC Cruises|
MSC Divina, a Fantasia-class ship, provides many of the razzle-dazzle features that guests who have sailed on other contemporary lines expect. And, within its MSC Yacht Club, a ship-within-a-ship concept, it's definitely a premium experience.
On MSC Divina, clients will swim in an Infinity Garden Pool and enjoy a “beach zone” aft. The ship has three restaurants and an alternative dining restaurants. Its Aqua Park has 150 fountains and water jets, whirlpools and a pool bar.
The ship also has dedicated children’s and teen areas, an interactive 4D cinema, a virtual Formula 1 auto racing simulator, the MSC Aurea Spa and the 1,603-seat Pantheon Theatre.
In late November, the line will have a three-night inaugural from Miami, but “between now and that inaugural, we will be spreading the work like crazy,” says Muskat.
While Muskat came from a big corporate environment with sizable resources at Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises’operation in the U.S. – based in Fort Lauderdale – is relatively modest with just several dozen people, all reporting up through Rick Sasso, the line’s president for North America.
"It’s definitely different than what I’m used to,” Muskat said, but “the advantage is that it’s a very close knit group and we communicate easily. What’s a bit harder is that we don’t have the resources [in North America], so a lot of us are wearing multiple hats and doing multiple things.”
What can agents expect in terms of Muskat's style of management? At Royal Caribbean, Muskat hosted the cruise industry’s first weekly online radio show for both travel agents and consumers, which ran for 22 weeks reaching over 24,000 listeners a week.
He tells Travel Agent that the line will definitely do more social networking and promotion in anticipation of MSC Divina’s arrival in South Florida. So look for the line to launch its own MSC Travel Agent Facebook page.
And when Muskat tweets on behalf of MSC, he said agents should know that “it’s coming from me, not someone else within the organization.”
The line already does an extensive number of Webinars, and Muskat said those will continue. The line also will continue to do e-mail blasts.
He said the company is heavily investing in making sure the cruise line and the North American efforts are successful.
That said, “we have to produce, we have to find the passengers." And at the same time, the line needs to increase its rates for the product it’s fielding.
Muskat says he knows exactly what needs to be done. “The most important part is to get out in front of the trade,” he said. “And, I know how to do that.”
For sales and marketing tools, agents should visit www.msccruisesagent.com.