MSC Cruises Eyes Asian Passengers

April 21, 2008
MSC Cruises, the Italian cruise line that has built a strong passenger base in Europe and is increasingly wooing North Americans to the fray, has set its sights on another burgeoning cruise market: Asia.

MSC Cruises announced earlier this month a partnership with the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal (SIPG). Though talks of such a partnership began last May, MSC Cruises CEO Pierfrancesco Vago and SIPG Chairman Mr. Lu Haihu signed the formal contract at an April 5 press conference onboard the line's new flagship, MSC Poesia, which was christened in Dover later that evening.

In this partnership, MSC Cruises and SIPG will set up a joint venture travel agency in Shanghai to educate the public about the value of a cruise vacation, in a dedicated office within the new cruise terminal scheduled to open in early August 2008.

Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises have already committed to homeporting ships at the new port, offering Asian itineraries marketed to Asian cruisers. MSC Cruises execs hinted at the conference that they, too, would soon deploy a ship to Shanghai to sail Asia cruises for the local market.

"The Far East in general is a very attractive market," Vago said. "They work very hard but have very little time [to vacation]. Now we give them the opportunity to on a cruise vessel."

However, if and when (and with which ship) is not yet set in stone. In fact, the official press release vaguely stated that MSC is "carefully studying the potential of deploying an MSC Cruises ship to service to commence an Asia service." When pressed for a timeline for confirmation and details, the best Vago could give was: "The very near future."

The new port will be located on the Huangupu River right in the heart of Shanghai, one of the most economically developed areas in China and one of the country's leading ports. The brand-new facility will be capable of receiving one million cruise passengers per year.

Stay tuned.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor