Why Costa Cruises has made its home in the Mediterranean

Costa Cruises was born in the Mediterranean Sea over 70 years ago. Jon Ingleton talks with Mario Alovisi about the inimitable allure of the Mare Nostrum

Why Costa Cruises has made its home in the Mediterranean

Costa Cruises

Anna C was the ship in the Costa Cruises fleet that was purely for passengers. Continuing the tradition of naming ships after Costa family members, she entered service in March 1948 and sailed to South America from the company’s home in Genoa.

Seventy years on and Costa is known for itineraries around the world, but most fondly associated with the proud history it has forged on its home sea, the Mediterranean.

Costa Deliziosa became the first ship in the Carnival group to restart operations after the pandemic, departing from Trieste and calling at Bari and Catania. Costa Diadema and Costa Smerelda have also resumed sailing and Costa Firenze is expected to follow in December, all with Mediterranean itineraries.

“The Mediterranean Sea is an unbelievably enriching destination for the cruise market and the broader tourism industry, as it offers the possibility of living unique experiences all year round,” says Mario Alovisi, vice president of global revenue management, itinerary development and transportation at Costa Cruises.

As restrictions lift, itineraries will expand once again into more recognisable voyages with calls to multiple countries: “We visit a great combination of unique seaside destinations from East to West, art cities with millenary history such as Rome, Florence, Alexandria in Egypt, the charm of Turkey,” says Alovisi.

The cultural connection between the nations of the Mediterranean is a significant differentiator for Alovisi: “The Mediterranean Sea represents an incredible mix of different cultures, sharing the common feature of being connected by the sea and enabling us to offer unique and unforgettable vacations and long lasting memories. For all these reasons the Mediterranean Sea is currently the second largest cruise destination in the world right after the Caribbean. It welcomes over 31 million guests annually and that figure is growing.”

The regions within the Mediterranean market are evolving at a different pace, presenting singular opportunities and challenges. “The western Mediterranean has always been our home and home port. We are restarting from the Mediterranean after this challenging period. The west Mediterranean represents the closest seaside available for all major European countries and it also provides excellent accessibility and state-of-the-art infrastructure, also able to host our new generation vessels. The west Mediterranean will keep on evolving its features and will continue to represent a core pillar in our strategic deployment,” says Alovisi.

“The east Mediterranean is the second pillar of our strategic deployment and one of the most appreciated series of destinations by our guests, as it offers both great short haul (Italy, Greece) and medium haul (Turkey, Egypt) destinations. Unlike the west Mediterranean, the only limitation we currently face is the slower infrastructural evolution that may enable new generation vessels to be deployed, both in terms of vessel size and technology – for example, LNG refuelling options not yet being available,” says Alovisi.

Costa operated Black Sea cruises until 2013 and these itineraries achieved high satisfaction ratings among passengers. “Unfortunately we were forced to cancel them from our deployment due to the security risk, political instability and in order to comply with our corporate guidelines. Safety and security are our utmost priorities, still our willingness and hope is that we will be able to return, as soon as possible and safely, to such amazing destinations,” says Alovisi.

Before the crisis, signs of a Black Sea revival were very strong. It’s a region that Costa and others will be watching closely as it presents a series of itinerary opportunities to less travelled destinations that are very appealing to cruise passengers.

North Africa also dropped off Costa itineraries due to security and political issues. “Again we’re willing and hope to return to grow our presence in such amazing destinations, but it has to be in compliance with our safety and security measures and corporate guidelines,” says Alovisi. “We are already offering cruises to Morocco and the great news is we have started returning to Egypt beginning this winter with amazing 14-day cruises.”

East and west Mediterranean cruises are high performers for Costa across the seasons. “We have excellent results in both the west and east Mediterranean, where we offer seven-day and longer cruises, such as 12-day itineraries towards the Canary Islands or 14-day itineraries calling at Greece and Egypt,” says Alovisi. The two-week cruise from Rome to Savona in May 2021 on Costa Diadema is a good example, calling at Palermo, Athens, Izmir, Istanbul, Crete, Barcelona and Marseilles.

One of the significant attributes of operating in the Mediterranean is the capacity it offers to easily revitalise itineraries with new calls. “The possibility to refresh a Mediterranean offering is endless, yielding unique experiences all year round to fulfil the desires of virtually any guest. Even the same destination may be rediscovered from different angles, by benefitting from our shore excursions that offer the possibility of living the experience from different perspectives,” says Alovisi. “We are always looking to expand possibilities for our repeater guests, thus we design longer itineraries in order to be able to add different and new Mediterranean ports.”

Judging which ports to keep, add and drop is a continuous juggle for every planner. “The itinerary design process takes into consideration various aspects that we then combine to guide us towards the decision to add or drop destinations,” says Alovisi. “Importantly, we take into consideration the technical operational needs connected to the infrastructural feasibility of the port or destination.” The line goes to great lengths to understand guests’ opinions of destinations. “They’re all tracked via our comment forms and continuously monitored, and we’re very thorough in our market research of new destinations,” says Alovisi.

The Mediterranean is a particularly competitive port market but when the world has beaten the virus, growth and opportunities will return. Alovisi encourages collaboration to underpin a cruise business strategy. “The greatest opportunity to reach lofty goals is through the collaboration between all stakeholders involved in the industry, such as ports, tour operators and authorities. Only by cooperating among cruise operators and the destination may we further improve guests’ satisfaction levels during the whole vacation,” says Alovisi, “We need to evolve and enrich procedures, infrastructure and industry-wide projects.”

While the itinerary design process takes countless variables into consideration, there is one metric that matters more than anything else: “The ultimate goal is high guest satisfaction. Every port that we add to our itineraries must have an excellent score from our guest ratings,” says Alovisi.

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
08 February 2021

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