Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2022

KEYNOTE An eco-conscious pioneer Pierfrancesco Vago explains to Rebecca Gibson how MSC Group’s family values and innovative approach are helping it to create revolutionary ships, transform the guest experience and lead the cruise industry towards a zero-carbon future Widely regarded as a pioneering figure in the global cruise industry, Pierfrancesco Vago didn’t have the smoothest start when he first took the helm of MSC Cruises. “I worked in MSC Group’s cargo division and came from a businessto-business background, so I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about what was involved in delivering the best possible customer experience,” says Vago, who is now executive chairman of MSC Group’s cruise division and global chair of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). “In my old role, I could leave containers sat in the sun for 15 minutes without an issue, but I quickly learned that cruise guests don’t like it if you do the same to them! Moving to the business-toconsumer world was eye-opening as I had to learn about the importance of media marketing, branding, interior design, culinary offerings, itinerary planning and so much more.” The biggest game changer for Vago came in 2004 when MSC Cruises deployed a ship in North America for the first time. “I thought it would be perfect for us to offer an authentic Italian experience by freshly squeezing blood oranges from Sicily in front of guests at breakfast, so we went to great lengths to arrange that,” he says. “However, I hadn’t considered the fact that most had never seen the fruit before and had no idea what it was, so it was a wasted effort. At that moment, I realised that if we wanted to be a global player, we had to change our approach and better understand our guests so that we could find ways to cater to all their various needs and preferences. It was almost comical – we were a highly professional business with 300 years of seafaring and logistical knowledge but no idea how best to serve coffee!” Since then, Vago and the team have turned MSC Cruises into one of the biggest and most successful brands in the global cruise industry. In June 2021, MSC Group’s cruise division also launched Explora Journeys, its first-ever luxury brand which has been designed to redefine the concept of luxury travel. Both brands place customers at the forefront of every decision they make, striving to create smooth, seamless and enjoyable experiences that exceed expectations. Vago attributes much of this success to the fact that MSC Group is a family-run company with strong family values. “We’re a progressive brand that adheres strictly to five core values and we’re led by a hands-on management team that makes decisions to benefit our brand, our people, the environment and the wider cruise industry,” he explains. “Not only do our executive teams have all the skills needed to run a professional business, but they also have years of shipping experience so they understand everything from the technical aspects of operating ships to how to support our seafarers.” MSC Group’s family structure also gives it a business agility rarely seen in a company of its size, says Vago. “We inherently trust each other, and we aren’t obliged to satisfy external shareholders, so we can make quick decisions and invest in whatever we believe will be best for the business and our people in the long term.” 8 “ We’re continually pushing boundaries and showing the world how we can achieve sustainable shipping”