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Author: Jon Ingleton/01 November 2019/Categories: Interview, Onboard experience
To be a real innovator, MSC Cruises has to introduce new things, but we also have to take calculated, educated risks. Every deck activity or facility we choose must have a positive return on investment – either in terms of finances or a significantly improved guest experience. Having said that, sometimes we come up with an idea that is simply too exciting to ignore. We’re introducing something like this on our Royal-class ships, but I can’t talk about it yet!”
“MSC Cruises’ executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago has developed a real entrepreneurial spirit within the company and everyone is encouraged to share new ideas. When you are in a big public company and everything has got to go through committees, meetings and boards you lose a lot of that flair, but it’s much easier for everyone to fire new ideas at each other in a private company. Vago will come back from a trip, shows us photographs and ask why we haven’t done something similar on our ships. We’ll investigate to explore whether it can work for us and, if so, develop the concept further. Similarly, I went to a Japanese restaurant when I was in Hong Kong and saw a barbeque-style teppanyaki table where the chef cooked over an open grill. I knew our guests would love the interactivity, so I sent a text to Vago to ask how we might do it on our ships and manage the fire regulations and he gave me permission to look into it and now our newest ships feature this type of restaurant. That attitude, and the fact we’re a private company, puts us in a really unique position where we can quickly jump onto any new ideas as they come in.”
Inspired by a visit to Elmo Leather’s stand
“Our designers and the shipyards consider multiple factors when deciding whether to use leather because it’s an expensive premium product and it requires time and effort to maintain it properly. However, real leather performs much better than cheaper faux leather because it’s more durable, the colour lasts longer, it ages beautifully and smells wonderful. Consequently, we have to think beyond the price at the point of purchase and also consider the lifetime costs. For instance, if we want real leather chairs in our ships’ steakhouses so that we can give passengers a fuller experience as the material ages over time, it would certainly be worth paying a little bit more for real leather to get the longevity.
Inspired by a visit to Bolidt’s stand
“Finding the perfect flooring solution is a science and it’s a huge challenge for us because we never want passengers to feel it’s too noisy anywhere on our ships. We employ an acoustician for all newbuilds and together, we review the general arrangement (GA) of the whole ship to forecast where there might be issues. For example, guests in cabins above theatres don’t want to hear music or singing while they’re trying to sleep, and those in staterooms below the gymnasium or pool deck don’t want to hear equipment being dragged around. We then work with the shipyard’s acousticians to explore solutions for mitigating potential problems, such as using viscoelastic, layers or noise-cancelling technology, or creating false floors. We do this before the shipyard signs any contractors.
Noise can also emanate from equipment in a room, such as an air-conditioning unit, so we’re always pushing our suppliers all the time to reduce the sounds created by, or transferred through, their products. They respond very positively.
Inspired by a visit to Gudbrandsdalens Uldvarefabrik’s stand
“I’m an Australian, so I think wool from a marine-certified supplier is a wonderful product that has so many advantages! It’s such a flexible and sustainable material, so MSC Cruises uses it in carpets and fabrics. However, it has countless other applications too – it can be warming or cooling, so we can use it for insulation inside beds.
Although it’s sometimes necessary to use an artificial material that will last a long time in the demanding marine environment, many people are now going back to ‘real’ products. In fact, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s when everyone loved the cabin carpets made from the new fake fabrics, now our passengers love to have a thick, lush wool carpets in their rooms. It’s brilliant to see because products like wool are natural, sustainable, good for the environment and, on balance, perform better than their artificial substitutes.”
Inspired by a visit to Chelsom’s stand
“Lighting is my passion and, as far as I’m concerned, it can make or break a room. In fact, lighting accounts for a third of the final design, so designers who don’t fully respect its power will ultimately fail. For example, when I go into a restaurant that has downlights everywhere, I think it betrays a lack of imagination and kills the atmosphere.
I’ve recruited two lighting designers to work for MSC Cruises and given them a clear brief about how to present our lighting arrangements, including a tip about my general dislike for downlights that do not have a very specific purpose. Anyone can see and judge the quality of the lighting hardware, but our designers will look at how to ensure the light itself fill the room in the right way by highlighting some features and casting others in shadow, or by creating interesting outlines. It’s also essential to get the right brightness, intensity and colour temperature. That’s why I’ve asked MSC Cruises’ owners to come to the shipyard to decide what Kelvin, lumens and lux levels we should be using for the lights in the cabins on our new ship. We’re seeking a warm, white light so guests will feel like they’re at home.”
“We are a private company and owners Gianluigi and Rafaela Aponte are deeply engaged. Rafaela is always on our ships for the last phase of delivery, choosing all the materials and making sure everything is perfect. She listens to everyone from our employees to our suppliers and the shipyard before making a decision about how the ship will finally look.
Our owners and executive chairman know that sometimes you need to pay more for products initially if you want to get a longer life out of them. So, when external architects present something to us, our refurbishment and quality teams (who report to me) will check and approve all the materials that we use. There is a series of sign-offs to make sure that we’re getting the right interior products for our ships, with Rafaela acting as the ultimate judge on behalf of our guests.”
Flowers and plants
Inspired by a visit to Dauerflora’s stand
“We use both artificial and real plants and flowers on our ships, or real plants like palm and eucalyptus trees that have been preserved with green dye or glycerine to extend their life by at least 10 years. I’ve worked with Barbara Bressem, managing director of Dauerflora, for more than 20 years and the company has supplied plants for nearly every ship that I’ve been involved in. One of our projects was to build an artificial green wall that could withstand the wind, spray and rain on an outdoor deck. We built it on a stainless-steel frame with individually wired plants that Barbara has specifically selected to withstand the conditions. Passengers thought it looked amazing. As happens so often, it was successful because we found the right partner who was familiar with ship environments, able to work alongside the shipyard and our other partners, and had all the International Maritime Organization approvals.”
Achieving a design vision
“Shipping is a collaborative business and you have to be able to implicitly trust everyone involved and be confident in their skills. There are so many opinions and avenues open to you and the right partnerships are essential to give you good counsel about decisions that you have to make every day. Of course, there are times for taking a risk, perhaps by bringing in a new partner to freshen things up or to help you innovate. This would make our risk profile higher in that area, but overall it will stay low because we’ve worked successfully with the rest of the team before.
Every ship starts with a vision from the owner. From there, it’s a highly skilled collaborative endeavour with our internal teams supported by third-party flooring, design, material, activity, light, plant and thousands of other experts. It’s a wonderful business that brings joy to many thousands of happy passengers.”
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