Cruise lines entering China face a dilemma: tailoring the onboard experience to the Chinese may remove some of the Western touches that Chinese travelers actually want from their vacation. MSC Cruises is searching for a middle-ground.
The rush to serve Chinese tourists has intensified in cruising, with Carnival Corp. announcing plans to introduce a China-focused brand last week.
MSC Cruises hopes to compete with Carnival in China and will introduce a new type of staff member to ease the transition to cruising for the Chinese when it homeports a re-designed MSC Lirica in Shanghai next year. It will also partner with Chinese celebrity chef Jereme Leung to create an oriental fusion restaurant and train the ship’s staff in authentic Chinese cuisine.
Cruise Ambassadors tasked with acting as a personal assistant for individual passengers will speak both Mandarin and English. Overall, 80 percent of the ship’s staff is expected to speak Mandarin.
Cruise Ambassadors will also book shore excursions, make dining reservations and even join their cruiser during activities if commanded. Luxury cruisers on Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Haven product and Royal Caribbean International’s suites also have personal concierges, but MSC Cruises will integrate that level of service for all cruisers.
MSC is pursuing a tried-and-true template for re-designing the ship: on-demand service, high-end luxury retail, celebrity partnerships and tailored entertainment events. Its partnership with German-Chinese tour operator CAISSA Touristic will enable the experience to be crafted with Chinese cultural mores and expectations in mind.
“What makes this partnership stand out from other traditional agreements between China-based tour agencies and cruise lines is the emphasis that will be placed on the training of the entire onboard staff to ensure guests receive the best-in-class MSC Cruises’ experience and service, as well as the degree of the adaptation of the ship’s hardware and software, such as facilities renovation, service design and operation, to fit the customs and tastes of the Chinese guests it is designed to serve,” said CAISSA Touristic president Chen Xiaobing.
While MSC Cruises is a new entrant to the North American cruise market, it has long been a leader in European cruising. MSC Lirica isn’t a huge ship, accommodating about 2,200 passengers. MSC Cruises has a fleet of 12 ships with another seven on the way, so the company’s commitment to the Chinese market represents a small portion of its overall business, which is primarily focused on serving European cruisers.
“Everything on an MSC Cruises’ ship – from the hospitality, cuisine and staffing, to the ship’s interiors – is designed and controlled in-house, with meticulous attention to quality and detail,” said MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato. “This means we can customize every aspect of our offering – right down to a new Cruise Ambassador role we have created just for MSC Lirica – to meet the needs of consumers in the markets we serve.”
The Daily Newsletter
Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.
Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch
Photo credit: The MSC Lirica docked at Flåm, Norway, in 2009. Churchill188 / Wikipedia