Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2021

3 6 Pioneering post- pandemic cruising MSC Cruises’ Gianni Onorato, Marialuisa Iaccarino and Adrian Pittaway tell Rebecca Gibson how the brand has safely resumed operations while continuing to grow sustainably M SC Cruises celebrated a major historical milestone on 16 August 2020. Just five months after the global cruise industry was forced to halt all operations at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the family-owned brand became the first major cruise line in the world to resume international sailings, with MSC Grandiosa embarking on a seven-night Western Mediterranean voyage from Genoa, Italy. The cruise, limited to guests from the European Schengen Area, required MSC Cruises to collaborate with an external panel of medical and public health experts to develop a health and safety protocol to be approved by multiple local, regional and international organisations. “The eyes of the world were upon us on that momentous day and the atmosphere onboard the ship was fantastic,” recalls Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises. “I was onboard for that first sailing and it was a relief to be able to return to what we do best – providing memorable cruise holidays. But it was the first step in a very long journey. I believe that we helped plot the course for the cruise industry’s resumption of operations as our protocol set the standard and was adopted by other parts of the travel and hospitality sectors.” Since MSC Grandiosa’s return to the seas, MSC Cruises has continually monitored the effectiveness of its health and safety protocol, strengthening and relaxing measures in accordance with guidance from authorities. This has enabled it to safely reintroduce a total of 12 ships to the market (at the time of publication), with itineraries in the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea, the Red Sea and Saudi Arabia, and North America and the Caribbean. One notable deployment was for new flagship MSC Virtuosa, which has been sailing the line’s first-ever domestic cruises in the UK since May 2021. “Every major cruise line was eager to start operations in this traditional market of seasoned cruise customers and under a strict regime of rules and regulations,” says Onorato. “We decided to deploy our newest ship to show our commitment to British guests and we couldn’t have been prouder than when MSC Virtuosa took the honour of being the first deep-sea ocean vessel to sail in British waters in more than a year. MSC Virtuosa has been a tremendous success for us in the UK and perhaps this has paved the way for future domestic sailings in British waters.” To ensure a safe restart, MSC Cruises created protected shore excursions for guests. “Going ashore is a really important and enjoyable aspect of a cruise holiday, so we wanted to ensure that we had measures in place to protect our guests and the communities we visit,” says Marialuisa Iaccarino, head of shore excursions at MSC Cruises, noting that the line’s COVER STORY “ We helped plot the course for the cruise industry’s resumption of operations as our protocol set the standard” Gianni Onorato