Business focused cruise sector.jpg

Business focused cruise sector

By PAUL BERNHARDT news@algarveresident.com

Around 60 members of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce (BPCC) took advantage of an invitation by cruise agency MSC Cruzeiros to visit one of its ships, MSC Opera, in Lisbon last week.

The Lirica-class vessel was on a stopover in the Portuguese capital ahead of an 11-day northern European voyage.

The ship call was the initiative of parent company and BPCC member Mediterranean Shipping Company (Portugal) SA, which has an office in the city. MSC, one of the world’s leading shipping lines, is Italian owned and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

The 251-metre, 58,000-tonne MSC Opera was docked at the Santa Apolónia Cruise Terminal, one of two passenger facilities operated by the Port of Lisbon. The other terminal is located at Alcântara.

The tour began with lunch in the ship’s La Caravella restaurant after which a presentation about the company and its fleet took place in the lounge, hosted by Ricardo Nery of MSC Cruzeiros’ commercial department.

Chris Barton (left) and Ricardo Nery accompany one of the tour groups during the visit to MSC Opera
Chris Barton (left) and Ricardo Nery accompany one of the tour groups during the visit to MSC Opera

The 60-strong delegation was then split into two groups with each being escorted over several decks to explore passenger facilities including cabins, the Aurea Spa and Gymnasium and the Teatro dell’Opera show hall.

MSC Cruzeiros has been operating in Lisbon since 2010 and is the market leader in Portugal. The tour was designed ostensibly to promote the sector and to strengthen business links between the agency and chamber members.

“We saw this as a good way to touch base with our partners and to expand business,” said MSC Cruzeiros managing director Eduardo Cabrita.

MSC Cruzeiros is seeking to develop its MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) segment by offering team building opportunities and conference facilities for executives while MSC Opera is in port.

MSC Cruzeiros’ product distribution channel is directed solely through travel agents, and FAM trips are organised on a regular basis in order to showcase new itineraries and passenger facilities, among other innovations.  

“But over the past year we have seen more travel agents understanding the concept of a cruise not only as a vacation option but also as a business opportunity. For example, we are receiving more inquiries from the IT and automotive sectors, so it makes sense to promote a different kind of business model.”

MSC Cruises, a division of MSC, is a leader in the Mediterranean cruise market, sailing in the region throughout the year. The company also offers a wide range of seasonal itineraries in Europe, Canary Islands and the Atlantic Ocean. It also operates in the Caribbean and Antilles, South America, United Arab Emirates, the Indian Ocean and South and West Africa.

This year saw MSC Opera commencing its Northern Europe cruise package, departing Lisbon and calling in at Bilbao, Le Havre, Southampton, Ijmuiden (Amsterdam), St Peter Port in Guernsey and Vigo before returning to Portugal. In all, MSC Opera completed eight round-trip voyages that attracted 3,000 Portuguese passengers. Bookings for next year are already 20% up over 2013, revealed the MSC Cruzeiros boss, and additional routes are always being considered.

“The Mediterranean is our main area for holiday cruising, but operators are looking at new ports in order to expand. We call this ‘enlarging The Med’, and Lisbon is among those new ports of call, along with places like Malaga and Cadiz.

“We would like to include Portimão in our itinerary, but presently the infrastructure cannot accommodate our vessels.”

Cruise tourism generates considerable revenue for Lisbon, a fact not lost on port authorities: a third passenger terminal is planned near the Jardim do Tobaco docks, which is set to consolidate the existing facility at Santa Apolónia.

“But it’s good to see the government investing more in places like Portimão,” commented chamber CEO Chris Barton, who along with Events and Services Coordinator Helena Fernandes, helped arrange the visit.

“The port areas need to be expanded in order to receive larger ships. Perhaps then we can organise a similar visit in the Algarve.”