Swiss-based cruise line MSC Cruises has made cruise history in Canada with the May 1 opening of a dedicated office for the Canadian market, and two new .ca web sites.
Fifteen full-time employees in sales, marketing, contact centre, and finance will now be based in the office near Toronto's Pearson airport. In addition, the groups staff is moving to the new Toronto office from South Florida (existing booked groups are being transitioned to the Canadian office).
MSCCruises.ca is the consumer-facing website, and MSCBook.ca is the trade-facing website, both providing Canadian dollar pricing and allowing new bookings to be made in Canadian dollars. The Canadian team's emails have also transitioned to the .ca suffix from .com.
Ian Patterson, newly appointed country manager (and formerly, director of business development) for MSC Cruises in Canada, provided Travel Market Report with insights into how the groundbreaking launch is more than a symbolic gesture, and how it impacts Canadian agents booking their clients on MSC Cruises.
The right time for the Canadian market
The move, he says, is a pragmatic one, with the right timing and a strong motivation to do things right for Canadian consumers and the Canadian trade.
The office and .ca website show consumers MSC's commitment to them. The company demonstrates to advisors, with the .ca trade site, it's confidence in them and the Canadian market.
“We're a global cruise line, active in over 80 countries, not specific to any market,” said Patterson. This marks MSC's 19th “own country office.” And in the eyes of MSC Cruises, he said, this is more than an office and website. “It's not a new office. It's a new Canadian market.”
And, the move is a culmination of the work of the Canadian team already in place working with the Canadian travel trade. Leanne Hill, business development manager for Western and Central Canada; Gabrielle Lalime, BDM for Quebec; and Krystal Langenberg, BDM for Toronto, remain core members of the new MSC Canada.
MSC Cruises' business in Canada has grown exponentially over the last four years since the launch of the Port Miami-based MSC Divina.
Patterson pointed out that previous growth in English-speaking Canada had been Ontario-centric, fed by Port Miami, Europe/Northern Europe and Emirates departures. Recently, the West has been catching up, with Mediterranean, Northern Europe and longer cruises out of Miami driving Western bookings.
Growth in bookings has outpaced the growth in hardware, with even better projections over the next 18 months. The cruise line's fleet is expanding rapidly, to 29 ships by 2027. MSC expects more and more Canadian guests to sail on this growing fleet and on new itineraries soon to be launched, as well.
Speaking in a Canadian voice to Canadians
Patterson sees a natural fit between the Canadian consumer profile and MSC's own multi-cultural identity. MSC's new, dedicated Canadian market, he says, demonstrates that MSC understands the differences in various global markets – and in particular, how Canada is different from the U.S.
As MSC continues to expand through 2027, the new Canadian market, with sales and marketing teams in Canada, ensure MSC “speaks in a Canadian voice to Canadians.”
That includes French language versions of the consumer and trade sites in the coming months; a bilingual call centre; groups and sales support for guests and advisors; and additional bilingual marketing assets.
A focus on digital bookings – and trade partners
A certain amount of consumer marketing will be undertaken to increase brand awareness in the Canadian market, but most consumer marketing will be left to trade partners, said Patterson, in response to a question about whether the Canadian dollar pricing site and Canadian marketing initiatives will drive more consumers to book directly with MSC on the new site and bypass travel advisors.
“We understand and value our relationship with the trade,” Patterson said. “The trade is the backbone of MSC business,' asserted Patterson, who added that MSC plans to support agents in Canada. “Our big focus in 2019-2020 is to work with our trade partners to use the B2B site (MSCBook.ca).”
Currently, he said, about 70% of Canadian business is booked electronically, and he'd like to increase that, so the new, Canadian-based call centre staff can focus on assisting agents with bookings and concerns that can't be handled electronically.
Taking full advantage of the new Canadian assets and support, and using the .ca booking site now available, will help agents book more Canadian clients more smoothly and effectively, ultimately benefitting the agents' bottom lines.