Road to Recovery

MSC’s message of hope for the cruise sector

MSC Cruises Head of Retail Adrian Pittaway outlines the robust measures put in place by the company that have enabled a return to business – with lessons for the wider industry.

On 16 August MSC Cruises marked a poignant moment as its flagship MSC Grandiosa returned to sailing, departing Genoa on a seven-night Mediterranean journey. As the first cruiseship to leave on an international voyage in around five months, it was a critical breakthrough for the industry.

It was made possible by the introduction of a range of robust health and hygiene measures pioneered by MSC and which gained the support of governments in Greece, Italy and Malta – offering a precedent for other cruiselines to follow.

On a call organised by the Duty Free World Council on 17 September, MSC Cruises Head of Retail Adrian Pittaway gave travel retail colleagues his insights into the path to recovery.

Adrian Pittaway

MSC Grandiosa: Back in action and a template for recovery across the rest of the industry

“We are one of the last parts of the travel & tourism industry to recover,” he noted. “Cruise has been shut down for many months around the world.” He said that almost all of the world’s 340 cruise ships today are sitting in port with just enough staff to keep them safe and operational; undergoing maintenance; sent to long-term lay-up or even scrapped depending on their suitability for restarting.

“Not only that but we’ve seen new ship arrivals delayed with the disruption to construction timelines, and ship owners don’t really want to bring new ships into service until the industry is in a better place.”

Given these circumstances – an entire industry out of action – how do you plot a route back to normality?

Protocols are consistent from the stores to restaurants, and from theatres and cabins, so guests can easily understand them

MSC’s answer was to develop and implement health & safety protocols that go well beyond the guidelines set by national and international authorities, and that allow passengers to feel safe enough to enjoy the cruise experience.

“From May onwards we looked at creating a holistic approach, from booking to embarkation to service onboard including retailing,” said Pittaway. “Key principles were to reduce the risk of having any cases, to mitigate transmission of the virus and to avoid guests returning back home with any illness after departing the ship.

“We presented our protocols to various governments and got the green light from Greece, Italy and Malta, which meant that we could move towards what was a historic moment on 16 August when MSC became the first cruiseline to return to sailing. Over a month later we are still operating these seven-day cruises, still receiving fantastic feedback from guests.

This allows us to bring our second ship, MSC Magnifica, back into service from 19 October, on ten-day cruises around the Mediterranean, with hopefully others to join us beyond that.”

One of the high-class retail zones onboard MSC Grandiosa, now accessible again to travellers

The recovery protocol follows six core principles. Crucially, every guest is tested before they come onboard, at the point of embarkation. The same applies to crew, with regular temperature checks carried out onboard. Social distancing is implemented and clearly communicated, notably in busy areas from theatres to pool decks; and this is aided by a reduction to 70% of usual capacity.

Other elements include elevating sanitation and cleaning measures to new heights. This means “doubling down” on cleaning of touchpoints, fumigating and sanitising service areas, with a robust regime in place. The fifth area of focus is an enhanced investment in medical facilities, ranging from the command system onboard to the training of staff. Health monitoring and contingency plans are also in place, meaning that MSC can act quickly if there is a case, with areas of quarantine and ports that have agreed to take people off quickly. Pittaway said: “It all means taking a partnership approach to every port and local authority.”

Within this framework followed a series of retail priorities that MSC said represents best practice for the industry in its rebuilding phase.

Pittaway said: “The first was to invest in training for our team, including taking part in the DFWC Academy return to work training programme. We had a 100% success rate and now we have extended that across all of our tams. It’s an excellent tool one that I would really recommend to other retailers.

Stock can be handled by guests, but only under controlled conditions

“We also set new stock handling regimes to ensure there is no weak link in bringing stock onboard. You need a robust system where all deliveries are sanitised and anything coming into retail is quarantined for up to 72 hours before being merchandised on the shop floor.

“We then communicated the new health & safety regime simply and symbolically across the ship, so that the way we communicate in shops is exactly as we do in restaurants, in lifts, cabins or pool decks.”

New digital infrastructure helps MSC engage with guests through the journey, from cabin to shop, he added. “Suppliers have been very supportive; the way we handle products is very different now and we have leaned on or partners’ expertise to achieve this.”

Contactless payments and digital engagement are key features of the new shopping experience

Beyond this MSC has built in smart technology that permits contactless payments, and provided sanitisation measures for product testing. That includes wearing gloves to try on a garment, or even quarantining items after they have been touched or tested.

Pittaway added: “With everyone working remotely still, we put in place a direct support for our team onboard. Our buying and operations teams have direct contact with the shop floor so we ensure that feedback is responded to and acted upon quickly.”

On what the future may hold, he added: “We will see cruise ranges adapted to guests’ needs. We see differences in how they buy, as we do with crew.

MSC aims to ensure social distancing is in place even in high traffic zones such as pool areas

“The number of guests spending is roughly the same as before but they are spending differently. They have more time, the average transaction value is going up, but the number of visits is slightly down. The key will be in add-on sales, building the basket. Also, ports of call are not allowed everywhere right now so there is more opportunity for onboard shopping as the guests can spend more time interacting with the retail.

“Overall, the model will evolve as each cruise ship comes back into service. The key for us is that the service experience is no different from what people expect. What is important is that the eye contact, language and so on is personal and reassuring.

“The most important thing I can urge is that we communicate well. The people onboard are your ambassadors, so ensure that they are trained well. A core pillar of success is that your experience is lived and breathed by your entire team.”

*Adrian Pittaway is a speaker in a special session on the cruise market at the Virtual Travel Retail Expo on 13 October. He is joined by Starboard Cruise Services President & CEO Lisa Bauer and Harding Retail Managing Director James Prescott. Click here for more.

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The Moodie Davitt eZine

Issue 284 | 30 September 2020

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 12 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

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