MSC Cruises’ UK sales chief has pledged to increase pricing to “normal” levels as bookings come in and capacity sells out during the “transition” year ahead.
Steve Williams, UK and Ireland sales director, told a Travel Weekly webcast customers were starting to book “much further out” after a year in which the line tended to sell cabins a few weeks prior to departure.
MSC is one of a number of cruise brands that reported late bookings last year and a willingness to lengthen the booking curve.
He said: “We’re definitely in a transition period of moving back to something that I see as normal. We’ve exited December far better sold that we’ve been for three or four years.
“That only means one thing: our capacity is selling out far earlier. As capacity sells out, we’ll move prices up. It’s a fine balance between getting the volumes at the right price and then gradually tweaking up as that demand keeps coming in.”
He added: “I am sure my competitors will be in a very similar position.”
Williams urged cruise-selling agents to remind clients prices were likely to go up during the “year of transition” as the sector returns “to more normality”.
The majority of the line’s new-to-cruise passengers last year had “an amazing time”, Williams added.
“In terms of new-to-cruise passengers, we were getting – particularly on Virtuosa – upwards of 60%,” he said. “The majority of those customers had an amazing time. Hopefully they’re going to tell all their friends.”
Williams admitted he needs more on-the-road sales staff to “manage and look after people”. “There are more and more homeworkers out there,” he noted. “Every travel company seems to be looking at homeworking.
“The great thing about homeworkers is their customers generally spend more money and they book earlier.
“Everyone wants to develop and work with homeworkers as much as we possibly can.”
Williams hailed the efforts of the line’s talent acquisition team last year and apologised to agents who may have had “challenges” contacting MSC’s UK and Ireland team in 2022.
“During the pandemic we lost some people particularly within our UK contact centre. It was challenging,” he said. “There was a huge strain on service and levels of service within our contact centre.
“The really good news is we have a talent acquisition team that have worked very hard and looked in different places for talent. We managed to fully staff up by the end of the third quarter last year.”
He explained new staff were given training during the final three months of the year. “That training covers things like customer service and booking management,” he said. “I’m very sorry if anyone did have challenges with us last year – it was tough.
“As we go into 2023, I’m just so positive we’ve got a great fully-staffed team in place. We’re expanding the sales team, we will also be expanding within the contact centre further now to meet that supply and demand.”
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