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Earlier this month officials at MSC Cruises announced the company will homeport 4,500-passenger MSC Meraviglia at New York's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal beginning in April of 2023 for year-around itineraries visiting the Caribbean, Bermuda, New England and Canada.
The voyages will also provide cruisers with access to Ocean Cay' MSC' private Bahamian island and marine reserve. Even with more cruise ships offering cruises from the Big Apple, a year around New York deployment represents an unusual step for a contemporary cruise brand.
In fact, Meraviglia's Brooklyn homeporting is the fast-expanding company's first yea around deployment in the northeastern United States. We spoke with Reuben Rodriguez, MSC Cruises USA's president, to discuss the importance of the ship's positioning in New York.
TP: Why base Meraviglia year-round in Brooklyn, New York?
RR: New York has been an important source market for us already. Last year MSC selected priority markets to do aggressive marketing because we need to build awareness for our brand, which is not as well known in the U.S. as it is in the E.U. We included New York in our tests and it proved very effective.
TP: How did you measure the effectiveness?
RR: We have constant surveys tracking how aware consumers are about our brand and how likely they are to cruise with us, etc. We already know our brand has lower awareness in the United States compared with other brands, but we saw a significant increase in New York specifically as a result of our marketing. We saw a lot more traffic to our website and a lot more bookings from New Yorkers and the greater New York/Tri-State area.
TP: What other things did MSC learn about New York cruise vacationers?
RR: Not only did we see increased awareness, increased traffic and increased bookings from New Yorkers, but they're also really good bookings. New Yorkers tend to buy longer cruises and they tend to buy their cruises farther ahead, because you know everybody is booking closing now. But New Yorkers are booking a little farther ahead than the average cruiser and they tend to travel internationally more.
TP: What itineraries are New Yorkers selecting?
RR: Not only are they booking Caribbean cruises, they're actually booking cruises in the Mediterranean and northern Europe than our Florida cruisers. [New Yorkers] tend to buy better cabins, like suites and Yacht Club accommodations. New Yorkers are just a great target audience for us, so we're leaning in we're doing a lot more marketing in New York.
TP: Are there other reasons it's important for MSC to base a ship year-round in the New York region?
RR: For a contemporary cruise brand to be big in U.S., it has to have more homeports. After we added Port Canaveral [in Orlando, Fla.] last year, we looked at the data and said maybe New York should be next. So we're excited about the response we've had. What really drove it of course was not just placing any ship there. Meraviglia is a very modern ship; it's a ship we started cruising from the U.S. with from Miami last summer and we're now using at Port Canaveral.
So it's been exposed to both markets. It's a fantastic ship that has really high guest satisfaction scores. It's also a ship that's very well suited to a year around deployment in New York, where the first couple of days in winter are cold days. The ship has a lot of outdoor space but it also has a lot of great indoor space. We picked a ship our guests love, that's large and modern and has all the amenities and indoor and outdoor features.
TP: Why is it important the brand get off to a strong start in the city?
RR: It's New York. You want to put your best foot forward and you can't fall on your face. I know, I've been around New York before, and I know. Being in New York is part of what we need to do to build our brand in the U.S.
TP: Are there advantages to docking Meraviglia at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal as opposed to the nearby, more heavily utilized Manhattan Cruise Terminal?
RR: We selected Brooklyn because frankly it's logistically easier for guests to park there [and] it's easier to access. Logistically Brooklyn is better for embarkation and debarkation of a ship with 4,500 guests. We'll always utilize Manhattan for other occasions but for the weekly turnaround of a big ship Brooklyn makes sense. Brooklyn is a great destination as well.
TP: How does MSC's Brooklyn deployment impact MSC's traditional passenger base?
RR: Coming to New York gives us the opportunity to attract consumers up and down the Northeast. They can easily take the train or the car to the port. Brooklyn is also accessible to all our European guests who love to cruise in the Caribbean. They can fly direct to New York from so many cities.
We have a lot of European guests as the market leader in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. It's very attractive to for those guests to add a few days in New York City before or after their cruise. So we have a very rich set of [itinerary] options.
TP: What sort of consumer fits the MSC Cruises profile?
RR: We're targeting consumer segments that we call 'open-minded explorers.' They are part of the mass market, so these are not super-wealthy people, but they're upper-middle market and tend to be people who love to travel to immerse themselves in new cultures. They like to travel internationally, they love immersing themselves in new cultures and they have a little more sophistication meaning they read more, explore more and are very drawn to experiencing new cultures.
TP: Are there enough of those travelers to ensure the cruise line's success in the U.S.?
RR: There are plenty of consumers like that in the United States and there's probably more than average in New York honestly. we have a very European heritage to our brand and that European heritage really infuses a lot of the experience onboard, from the design of the ships to the entertainment. We are a European brand, we're proud of it and that's where we are. Onboard our ships in Miami it's not unusual to have 30 or 40 percent of the guests to come from outside of the U.S.
TP: Are you also marketing MSC Cruises' European flavor?
RR: Yes. Having that international character aboard - not just international crew, which everybody has - but international guests make it a different experience. We still communicate in English aboard the ships and make sure the experience is great for Americans in general, but we want to attract Americans that are excited about taking a vacation with people from all over the world.
Brian Major is Managing Editor for Digital Publications & Guides/Caribbean.
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