The MSC vessel Fantasia — Photo courtesy of Averain
Rick Sasso, president/CEO of MSC Cruises (USA) since 2004, is a 36-year veteran in the cruise industry and was an original member of the management team that created Celebrity Cruises in 1990, eventually serving as the premium line's president from 1995-2001. Sasso sat down with 10Best.com during his President's Cruise aboard MSC Poesia's maiden USA voyage to answer our five questions.
I think it's the fact we're a privately-owned company. Our goal and our focus is always directed to customer satisfaction. Because we're privately-owned, it allows us not to worry about what the analysts are saying ... what the stock market says the company's doing. We focus on the customer. So it's attention to that detail, and the private ownership allows us to pay that much attention to it. The personality of the brand comes out in the staff. We have beautiful ships - as you've seen, but to me the character and soul of any cruise line is its management team onshore, and the staff and management on the ship. And if we believe that our customers are first priority, it will provide them a good cruise experience. The character is about our private company and our staff.
You're selling MSC to our readers. Why should someone book and MSC Cruise over the familiar brands Americans are accustomed to?
There are many icons of our brand that I think many cruise lines have forgotten about in terms of delivering an experience. One of them is housekeeping. We probably have the cleanest ships in the world. I challenge anybody to find a cleaner ship on the planet Earth than an MSC ship. We practice the lost art of cruising, which are ... one, a quiet ship. You will notice we don't make a lot of announcements onboard. Why? The purpose of that is not to make an announcement every 10 minutes about bingo, horse racing, art auction, drink of the day ... we don't want to interfere with people's enjoyment. There's an art of cruising that we call quiet ships that most companies don't practice because their goal is to get you to spend money onboard; and our goal is to pamper you by not interfering with your holiday.
'White Glove Service' is another icon of our brand. You notice when you walk onboard we escort everyone to their stateroom. When people travel, they're usually a little bit disheveled, and they're a little bit confused. We think people need be handheld a little bit. So the White Glove Service is a style to give people a chance to let us help you through this vacation experience; and escorting to the cabin is the best example of that I can give you ... where most cruise lines today welcome you onboard, pointing you in one direction or the other and it's up to you to go carry your hand-held luggage and find your stateroom. We pay a lot of attention to entertainment. I believe we have the best entertainment at sea, and I can make that statement because I know why we have the best entertainment: We hire the best talent. So someone singing in the showroom or someone dancing in the showroom is going to give you goose bumps. It's not just a show in a theater on a ship. It's a presentation of quality and art; of music, dance and singing. In order to do that, you need to hire the absolute best talent. We are probably the one cruise line that focuses on hiring the best talent. I think our entertainment is the reason people should cruise with us. The rest is as you've seen. We have beautiful, soft, elegant ships. They're all new. We have the youngest fleet in the industry. We've grown faster than any cruise line has ever grown, which means we've invested more money.
And I think the combination of all that, with how much we charge - which is very little - makes it the best holiday at sea. I think that's why we're different.
MSC & Costa are both "Italian" cruises. In your mind - what are the differences?
I don't draw distinctions between any cruise line and ours. I believe that every cruise line is good. I believe that every brand has its attributes. And there is a cruise for everyone. This brand fits a customer who obviously wants new, clean and affordable and a variety of destinations. It's really a matter of where do you want to go, and how would you like to be pampered when you go there?
You've heard the phrase "What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas." What happens on an MSC cruise, people brag about.
I never say that "this brand's better than that, we're better than them because of ..."
We know what we are. We offer a European product, with beautiful ships, great food and entertainment, and we think that is our virtue.
What about the fall Foliage cruises out of New York City and Quebec?
We're a new company to North America. We're a 20-year-old cruise line, but we've focused most of our attention in Europe for the last 20 years. But more specifically in the last five, when the company has grown so fast, it has given us an opportunity to say "hey, we can be other than just a European company. We can be a South American company; we can be a U.S., North American brand. So we've been bringing our new hardware here for the last five years.
And because of that our goal has now accelerated, where people in the Northeast ... they've heard of MSC. Maybe not like they've heard of Princess; but they're beginning to say, ah, there's this European, privately-owned brand, very nice new ships. We've been there a few times on one-day calls. And we've noticed that the travel agents in the Northeast are very, very strong on our brand. We're delivering a pretty good product.
So the next logical extension for us is to bring the ship where the people are. Florida is our home base, but we're going to extend that a little bit by starting our cruises out of New England. Get's the ship here earlier. Instead of coming in November, we can bring the ship from Europe in September and do those cruises in New England and Canada.
It just adds another dimension to our variety.
Kids sail free - what's the strategy?
We believe that family cruising is probably one of main future opportunities for cruising in general. Why? Multigenerational travel is becoming high order, of more value. People who have cruised for many years are going to have grandkids. And they're going to want to take them on a cruise to introduce them to the kind of thing that they've been doing for 20 or 30 years. We believe that family travel is important and will be a future opportunity for a cruise line. Children are obviously the nucleus of that, so we wanted to have as a marketing tool something different and that is that kids sail free who are 17 or under. We may change that to 12 and under, but kids still sail free whether it's Christmas, New Year's, or Caribbean. We're a family, adult cruise line, but we also understand family travel and want to cater to the younger set.