Spending habits not linked to nationality, says MSC

By Andrew Pentol |

MSC Grandiosa was the first vessel in the MSC Cruises fleet to welcome back guests in August 2020.

MSC Cruises has revealed how a new health and safety protocol and fresh way of retailing on its Grandiosa vessel has set the tone for strong retail performance on its ships which have resumed operations following the devastating impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In conversation with TRBusiness, Adrian Pittaway, Head of Retail, MSC Cruises recalled how the company worked from ‘a blank piece of paper’ to determine what needed to be done and put its plans into action on MSC Grandiosa once operations resumed in August 2020.

“We worked with a number of partners and had a lot of experts within our own in-house team. In addition, we received a lot of advice and support from the Duty Free World Council and were able to create this protocol from scratch.”

The effectiveness of the protocol has been somewhat surprising, according to Pittaway, who added: “Sales from the start on MSC Grandiosa were so much more encouraging than we thought. That ship has been in operation for around 11 months and in that time the protocol has not had to be changed too much.

“Performance has actually maintained itself at a pretty high level and we have taken significant learnings [from how things have transpired on MSC Grandiosa] and been able to replicate them on other ships as we restarted.”


At the time of interview, seven MSC vessels were back in service, indicated Pittaway, who outlined the company’s new retail strategy. “The new strategy focuses on a different type of engagement and way people navigate the stores. This enables us to learn a little about what people want and is different and to use the findings to create a new business model.”

Increased penetration and average transaction values have been a prominent trend on board MSC Virtuosa.

One of the first things Pittaway and his team noticed was the substantial increase in average transaction values. A similar trend has been noted by several travel retailers spoken to by this publication.

“We saw a 40% or 50% increase in basket values which was extraordinary and something we never predicted,” Pittaway emphasised.

“The second thing we noticed was that penetration had risen by 15%. This, once again is something I would never have predicted.”

Questioning the reasoning behind the increased penetration and average transaction values, Pittaway cites the move away from window shoppers to interested shoppers as a key factor. “People who come into shops during this protocol era want to go shopping. They don’t want to sort of kill time and just walk around the shops.

“Consequently, our team have changed their approach to be able to give a higher quality service and provide more engagement and enjoyment for guests. This has resulted in guests genuinely wanting to spend more per transaction than previously.”

Earlier this week, MSC Cruises revealed details of the retail offer on its upcoming Seashore vessel.

Another possible reason behind the increases in penetration and average transaction values is guests’ desire for purchasing products to enjoy during the cruise. Pittaway explained: “Categories like beauty, jewellery and watches are products which can be used straight away. These products have been absolutely at the heart of that recovery.

“Everybody’s favourite brand is what they first started purchasing and are continuing to buy,” he continued, “but at the moment, they are buying more. This has been really encouraging to watch.”


Initially, Pittaway believed the aforementioned trends were short-term and would only be visible on MSC Grandiosa. This, however, is not the case. “Since restarting on MSC Seaside at the beginning of May and MSC Virtuosa at the end of May, we have seen very similar trends. This certainly wasn’t a short restart bounce. In the midst of this new onboard and retail environment, the motivation of guests seems pretty consistent.”

Adrian Pittaway, Head of Retail, MSC Cruises.

Spending habits do not seem to be determined by nationality either. “This is one of the biggest pre-Covid versus post-Covid changes I have noticed in cruise retail. It doesn’t matter if guests are Italian, German, British or French. They all seem to be spending similarly. The question is, how long will this last for?”

Reflecting on the sheer impact of the pandemic on MSC Cruises, Pittaway offers further insights into how the company has strived to mitigate against the impact of the pandemic and prepare for the re-start.

“MSC Cruises, like the rest of cruise industry, stopped operating in March 2020 and realised the enormity of the situation very quickly.

“We have focused on a number of elements over the past 16 months or so. One is maintaining strong engagement with our team and supply partners in real-time and ensuring they understand exactly what is going on.

“Another has been not losing sight of the long-term planning and projects we were undertaking. Finally, we have been doing everything possible to keep the team really motivated. We wanted them to realise we would restart one day and thankfully this has now happened.”

He concluded: “It has been a tough period for everyone, but we have at least had the opportunity to think a little differently and ensure we were ready for the re-start.”

See the Global Cruise & Ferry report in the September edition of the TRBusinsess e-zine series for more from our interview with MSC Cruises’, Adrian Pittaway.


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