As further demonstration of the growing power of the Chinese cruise market, MSC Cruises have announced they will homeport a ship all year round in the country for the first time ever. From May 2016, the MSC Lirica will call Shanghai home, having entered into a partnership with the CAISSA Touristic Group: a major tour operator in China.
In preparation for its new assignment, the MSC Lirica has been lengthened and refurbished – increasing the capacity from 1,445 to 2,600 passengers. This is part of the cruise line’s £150 million Renaissance Programme. The refurb will also include the addition of signage in Chinese Mandarin and upmarket shops and restaurants designed to appeal to the Chinese market.
Additionally, the cruise line is increasing its Chinese-speaking crew and opening a training centre in the country. MSC’s CEO Gianni Onorato has even hinted to Cruise Industry News that the Lirica could be the first of many ships in the fleet to move to China.
“The most common question I have been asked in the past two years is: ‘When are you going to China?’ We wanted to find the right partner to work with, and that is CAISSA Touristic.
“We finalised the agreement last January, so we will have about a year and half of lead time before entering service in China. We have had an office in China since 2010, now with 50 people selling and marketing to Chinese traveling to Europe. So obviously the operations part is already in place.
“We also selected the Lirica as the ship to be customised to the market. She just entered the yard yesterday as part of our 200 million euro Renaissance program, and remodelling the ship we will make her as suitable as possible to the market and to the requirements we have defined to be winning points for the Chinese. There will be a mix of hardware and software solutions based on our Mediterranean roots with a strong Chinese customisation.
“Starting with the crew, there will be more than 30 percent who will be Mandarin speaking. We already had a good number of Chinese crew working on our ships and have carried some 20,000 Chinese passengers in Europe. On top of that we are opening a training center in Shanghai.”
As we reported back in March, some researchers suggest that the Chinese cruise market could soon account for 75% of the entire industry. With over 1 billion citizens and a booming economy, the Chinese cruise market has grown from nowhere to become a major player, leading to many of the world’s largest cruise lines rethinking their global strategy.
MSC Cruises have traditionally specialised in Mediterranean itineraries, with the majority of their ships homeporting in Italy and other countries on the Med. This move signifies a departure from their roots, one that Onorato admits is a little bit daunting.
“China is part of our global strategy. China is an additional step of the implementation of MSC’s global strategy based on our Mediterranean roots but with local customisation.
“I don’t know if everybody will be happy about our arrival, but I think this will also help our competition. China is a new market like Europe used to be. I think China and Asia can be a new area of growth for everyone.”
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Free Photos, Loïc Lagarde, Ed Coyle