|Rick Sasso, North American president, MSC Cruises // Photo by Susan J. Young|
MSC Cruises has its sights clearly on North America, and it appears that’s far more than just the MSC Divina as a year-round ship from Miami.
At a press conference in Fort Lauderdale Friday, Rick Sasso, the line’s North American president, announced several big developments of interest to agents, during Cruise Lines International Association’s cruise3sixty conference.
Greater Sales Presence & "Serving You"
While Sasso wouldn’t provide details, he indicated big news is coming from MSC soon in terms of its plans for the North American market. Possibly related? A few weeks ago, MSC Cruises signed a letter of intent (LOI) with STX France for the construction of two new cruise ships with an option for two more.
The two newly ordered ships will increase the line's global capacity by 31 percent. Will one of those new ships, set to be introduced in 2017 or 2019 be positioned in North America? Or, as the line adds new tonnage, will it move other vessels to the U.S. as new ships begin service in Europe?
That’s not yet known, but MSC, which already operates 12 ships -- is expanding worldwide. It now carries the most passengers in South America, for example.
Whatever is planned, Sasso said his group is hiring at least 22 more sales employees to serve the travel agency community. “We are making a significant investment by more than doubling our sales force so we have greater face-to-face interaction with our travel agent partners ensuring we work together to design and develop sales strategies for our mutual success,” Sasso said.
MSC Cruises is currently recruiting field business development managers (BDMs) for the following sales territories: Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle; Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Illinois and Wisconsin; Indiana, Ohio and Michigan; northern New Jersey; North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia; New York (Manhattan metro and Long Island) and Connecticut; Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey; Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., and western Canada.
"It's not about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or mobile applications, " stressed Sasso, who says "we do all of that and we're investing in all that." But Sasso said the line thinks "the human factor" is more significant when dealing with agents, employees and consumers.
So MSC Cruises is launching enhanced trade support under a new "Serving You" umbrella. Sasso said MSC Cruises wants "more people on the ground and face-to-face...We want to become the partner of the travel sellers, to engage them to work with us, as together we can create new business. Not only are we going to put boots on the ground, but we're also going to expand inside sales, sales service, customer service...so we can serve future and current partners."
So, the line is also adding a team of additional new business development specialists to the sales force based at its Fort Lauderdale headquarters. These new employees will manage certain accounts via telephone. A separate new team of sales support specialists to assist the field BDMs with account servicing.
The new “Serving You” initiative is being added to MSC True Partnerships, the line’s long-standing travel agent program that gives agents reward points for bookings. They earn extra cash plus commission on ancillary items including shore excursions, transfers, air and hotel packages.
In addition, the line fields a travel agent Web site and a travel agent-dedicated Facebook page.
|Left to right: Ken Muskat, Rick Cazzell and Rick Sasso // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Muskat Promoted, Cazzell & Henwood Hired
Sasso also announced that Ken Muskat, former senior vice president – sales and marketing -- has been promoted to executive vice president of sales, marketing, public relations and guest services.
He’ll continue to oversee the North American sales, marketing, public relations and customer service while adding new responsibilities that include reservations (both trade and consumer). “Ken’s contributions in under a year have helped propel awareness of MSC Cruises to our travel agent partners and consumers in North America,” said Sasso.
Sasso also announced that Rick Cazzell is the line’s new vice president of trade support and guest services. Reporting to Muskat, he’ll have responsibilities focused on reservations, consumer direct sales, customer service and IT.
“Rick brings tremendous experience running call center operations, delivering customer service training and expertise in systems and technology that will elevate the service we provide to our trade partners,” Sasso said.
Cazzell has more than 25 years of leadership experience within travel contact centers. Most recently at Silversea Cruises, he was responsible for day-to-day operations of the direct sales team working directly with various other departments, including Marketing and IT, to deliver bottom line results.
Prior to that he has also led other such travel-related contact center operations for companies like Interval International; PRC where he supervised Expedia.com’s care and sales teams; and American Express.
Sasso also announced that MSC Cruises veteran Jim Henwood will take on the expanded role of senior vice president hotel operations and group services. He’ll focus heavily on the group business, especially the affinity group market.
The new sales executive team is launching a new 20-city roadshow that will visit U.S. and Canadian cities in May and continue through year’s end. “Bringing the executive team to these cities to not only share the news about MSC but to also listen and learn is critical if we want to be successful in this market,” said Muskat.
While the cities could shift, as the list is not yet finalized, Sasso loaded a slide for reporters that showed his line's expectation to visit following areas: New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Ohio, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Palm Beach (FL), Miami, the Carolinas, Atlanta, Alabama, Vancouver, Galveston, Jacksonville (FL), Orlando, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
|Photo by Susan J. Young|
New Sweepstakes Promotion
Continuing the alliance between MSC Cruises and FIAT, MSC Cruises is launching a joint promotion where one travel agent and one consumer will each win a brand new FIAT 500c POP, with a retail value of more than $21,000.
“FIAT helped make a huge splash for the arrival of the MSC Divina when she sailed into Miami for the first time escorted by FIAT watercrafts,” said Muskat. “We knew this was the perfect match to showcase our Italian heritage and provide one fortunate travel agent with a piece of the ‘Mediterranean way of life’ to take home.”
Travel agents can enter to “Win a FIAT” on new bookings made beginning April 4 through May 18, 2014, on seven-night Caribbean sailings on MSC Divina between August 2, 2014 and December 27, 2014.
Once the booking is made, travel agents must register it on MSC Cruises travel agent website, http://msccruisesagent.com/fiatgiveaway. Eligible travel agents will receive one entry per stateroom booking when registered during the promotion period.
Complete rules and entry details can be found at http://msccruisesagent.com/fiatgiveaway. No purchase is necessary to enter.
In addition, the line announced a similar promotion for consumers who book and sail on MSC Divina in the same time frame. The consumer promotion begins on April 7 and runs through May 18, 2014; details can be found at www.msccruisesusa.com/us_en/FiatGiveaway.aspx.
Both the travel agent and consumer winners will be announced as part of a holiday celebration in late December of this year.
New Marketing Initiatives
Sasso noted that MSC Cruises has expanded its marketing footprint in North America with television, outdoor and radio advertising in key markets. It’s also using social media and online advertising. Agents can expect even more marketing as the line seeks to expand its operations in North America.
Coinciding with CLIA’s cruise3xixty conference, the line has branded buses traveling between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale during the month of April. A handful of buses will be completely wrapped with the outside ship images of MSC Divina on the sides and back with other buses containing only a back image.
A total of 14 buses will be traveling in the area with a “Call Your Travel Advisor” call to action.
Yet to come? Expect MSC Cruises to launch a new wedding program for MSC Divina; it will be announced in a few months in conjuction with a partner.
Sasso said guests on the ship will be able to get married either shipboard or ashore while the ship is docked in such destinations as San Juan, Puerto Rico or Falmouth, Jamaica. MSC will also continue with its existing wedding arrangements worldwide.
For more information, visit www.msccruisesusa.com.