(3:15 p.m. BST) -- In an exclusive interview, the head of MSC Cruises in the U.K., Antonio Paradiso, talks to Cruise Critic about where and when cruising will return, forward bookings -- and how cruising might be different from before cruise lines suspended operations.
Do you think there will be a phased return of cruise operations?
It is likely that we will see a phased return of cruise operations. This really is an unprecedented situation with the entire fleet currently halted and as a global business that operates all around the world, we will need to adapt our planning according to the situation in each of the regions where we sail. China for instance is likely to be the first region to commence operations and will likely set the model and the framework for the way in which we restart in other countries.
How many people are opting for a refund vs a Future Cruise Credit?*
We are really encouraged by the numbers we are seeing with between 80-85 percent of people opting to take the FCC. To our loyal customers and valued partners I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your support. In addition enquiries and bookings for Summer 2021 are picking back up with people clearly wanting to have something to look forward to.
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*In the U.K. and Irish markets
Is 2020 over in terms of cruising or can you see cruises restarting in the summer/autumn?
It is still too soon for us to say whether we will restart in the summer and much of this depends on how the situation unfolds in Europe over the coming weeks. Across the world but more so in the UK we are reliant on the air industry so how they proceed also impacts our plans. We will of course monitor the situation closely and are in daily contact with our airline partners so that we will be ready as and when the time is right.
Have operations restarted in China?
Operations in China have not yet restarted but we are working to be ready as soon it is right for us to restart. We are working closely with the authorities on how we will start operating again in a safe and responsible way for our guests and crew.
What will cruising look like after this?
The cruise experience will change coming out of this crisis but we will still offer guests an enriching and enjoyable experience. There will be increased and enhanced health and safety protocols, this will include some of the measures we already introduced during the crisis such as more rigorous health checks and increased deep sanitation of the ships. There will be changes to things such as embarkation and disembarkation processes, and changes in terms of how we handle the serving of F&B on board or how our entertainment offering is run. It is also possible that we may sail with reduced capacity, but these are things that we are still working through to ensure we will be ready to commence operations again in the safest possible way.
What are late 2020/2021 bookings looking like?
Just like the previous few years our booking trends were strong and really encouraging for the year ahead. Of course we have seen a decline due to COVID-19 and with uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions it’s hard for guests to decide when is the right time to book for their future cruise holiday. We have implemented the Flexible Cruise Programme to provide guests who have cruises this summer to move their cruise to later this year or next summer many of whom have taken us up on this offer. Outside of this we are seeing strongbookings for Summer 2021 and beyond as people are not only dreaming of their next holiday but booking in order to have something to look forward to for next year.
Will you be selling fares high or low to stimulate the market?
Just like with prices under normal circumstances there will be fluctuations based on demand, itinerary and time of year however our mission as always is to provide a great holiday experience at an reasonable price and this is what we will continue to do. We are always working with our guests and travel agents to provide the right products and offers at the right time. We are working on plans for the rest of the year and as always I’d advise your readers to keep an eye on our website or keep in regular contact with their travel agent in order to get the most up to date information on itinerary changes, news and offers.
How will you go about reassuring the consumer that cruising is safe, particularly the first time cruiser?
Communicating our health and safety measures to existing guests, prospective guests and the travel agent community will be key to reassure consumers that cruising is safe. It has been unfortunate that the cruise industry has been at the centre of many of the negative headlines relating to the pandemic, but we have worked tirelessly during this crisis to protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, responding to a dynamic and challenging situation. We will naturally see loyal cruisers returning as they understand the way in which the industry adapts and reacts to these situations and they will be keen to get back on board. Seeing this will then build confidence with first time cruisers and will help us to stimulate their interest.
How long will it take before cruise goes back to where it was before corona?
It is not possible to put a timeline on this as so much of it will depend on how the situation continues to evolve in different countries. It will take time for the cruise industry to rebuild but there is no doubt that we will return stronger from this, having faced considerable challenges.
Do you have a message that you would like to share to reassure MSC Cruises' passengers and Cruise Critic readers?
Our message is for all of our guests, travel partners, friends and staff -- we’re all in this together. We are a united industry that tackle good times and bad times together, and in the bad times that means so much. When the time is right we will all cruise again and in the meantime, keep dreaming as there’s a whole world out there left to explore.
• MSC Cruises is due to resume cruise operations at the end of May.