Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2021

4 2 INTERV IEW Agile innovation MSC Cruises has been a serial innovator throughout its 30-year history. Jon Ingleton asks Pierfrancesco Vago how this attribute has helped the business to navigate the challenges of the past year I ndustry innovation and pioneering leadership are two of many attributes that have elevated MSC Cruises to the top of its game over the past 30 years. Admired by cruise passengers and industry competitors alike, the company also demonstrates a business agility rarely seen in a company of its size. This quality has become a significant asset since the Covid-19 pandemic began rampaging worldwide in early 2020. “At the beginning of the emergency, our biggest achievement was getting our passengers home quickly and safely,” says Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises and global chair of Cruise Lines International Association. “The results that our crisis team achieved in coordinating and executing the logistics of such a significant undertaking gave us enormous pride.” Repatriating crew was an even tougher challenge. “Airports were shutting down, borders were closing and nations were locking up – some countries were even preventing their own citizens from returning home,” explains Vago. “However, we successfully repatriated over 20,000 crew members – without recording any cases of the virus – and then made arrangements to lay up our fleet.” At the outset of the pandemic, critics predicted that significant changes would need to be made to the cruise experience when, and even if, operations restarted. Since then, operators like MSC Cruises have been investing in medical research, people and equipment to overcome the health and safety implications of the virus. MSC Cruises quickly established a blue-ribbon Covid Expert Group to develop and implement its extensive and rigorous Health & Safety Protocol. “At the beginning of the pandemic there was very little knowledge about the virus and there was a disconnect among health authorities about the best way to combat Covid-19 and protect the public, so developing our protocol was very complicated,” says Vago. “First, we had to understand the logic and scientific data, then interpret this information to shape our health and safety approach. Next, we had to manage the demands of every health authority in every government in every country and align with port authorities and other stakeholders. I