In what may seem like an about face, MSC Cruises said Tuesday its North American-tailored ship will spend next summer in the Mediterranean, a move signaling a reduction in the Italian cruise operator's U.S. presence.
The 4,345-passenger MSC Divina will now sail seven-night itineraries in the Mediterranean from May 16 through October 3, 2015. It'll leave Miami for Europe April 26.
Divina arrived at PortMiami last November escorted by high-powered Fiat 500 personal watercraft to kick off its much touted year-round Caribbean schedule. The ship had several onboard enhancements done, such as retooling restaurants and tweaking menus and restricting smoking to certain areas to better cater to North Americans.
Now, five months later, MSC said it's redeploying Divina to waters where it can command higher prices while still serving North Americans.
"After exposing MSC Divina to thousands of guests in the Caribbean, customer surveys are showing an increased desire for North Americans to sail onboard MSC Divina in the Mediterranean," said Richard E. Sasso, president, MSC Cruises USA, which operates from Fort Lauderdale.
Sasso called the Mediterranean "the hottest and most desired vacation destination by North Americans today."
Increased competition and pricing pressures in the Caribbean played a role in its decision to send Divina to Europe next summer, said Ken Muskat, MSC executive vice president, sales, PR and guest services.
In a phone interview Tuesday from Geneva, where MSC is headquartered, Muskat said many things changed in the marketplace after announcing Divina would sail year-round from Miami.
"The competition [in the Caribbean] is very, very heavy with brands that are far better known than we are," he said. "Pricing next summer is not much better, so we looked at where we could be most profitable and that's in the Mediterranean."
In March 2013, MSC announced Divina would begin year-round sailings to the Caribbean from PortMiami, marking the first time one of its ships would sail from Miami, after relocating its seasonal operations from Port Everglades.
MSC had previously based its Caribbean-bound ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale during the fall-winter seasons.
"It's a smart move as they'll be able to make more money in Europe," Stewart Chiron, CEO of Miami-based CruiseGuy.com, said of Divina's redeployment. "Having the Americanized Divina in the Mediterranean will attract more U.S.-based passengers to their brand in the region or Europeans wanting a higher level of food and service."
Divina will continue sailing to the Caribbean until next early month when it'll depart May 19 on a Grand Voyage to Brazil where it will be chartered for the World Cup, Muskat said. The ship returns to Miami Aug. 2 to resume Caribbean sailings through mid-April 2015.
No other MSC ship will fill in during its absence from Miami. Divina should return to Miami in November 2015 for Caribbean sailings sporting some new features geared to the North American market that will be added during a drydock Europe.
"We're not giving up on our focus on North America, and by no means are we giving up on year-round sailings from Miami," Muskat said.
MSC is continuing to ramp up its sales force in the U.S. and strengthen its travel agent network as part of its strategic North American plan that will likely see future ships heading to this market.
"We do intend to come back in a bigger way," he said.
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