Q&A with James McIntyre, Procurement Director, MSC Cruise Management

17 Jan 2018

In the last couple of years, the global cruise industry has undergone a radical transformation. Not only has it witnessed a rise in passengers from 15.8 million to 25.3 million in the past decade, but it is also in the throes of a significant makeover. Once considered to be the domain of the over 60s, cruise ships are now welcoming more passengers from the younger generations than ever before.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a new wave of passengers from millennials and Generation X is favouring cruise travel, rating it as better than land-based holidays. As a result, cruise lines are having to adjust – and expand – their onboard offerings accordingly. We spoke to James McIntyre, Procurement Director at MSC Cruises to find out what the sector is doing to appeal to its new customer base.

How has the cruise sector changed in the past few years?
The cruise sector has changed significantly in the past few years. Not only have we experienced exceptional growth in terms of passenger numbers, but our customer needs continue to grow and diversify. We are constantly striving to innovate to meet these needs which is evident with the introduction of technology onboard our ships. Our newest ships are purpose built smart ships and our app, MSC for Me has been designed to bring some of the very latest advances in customer-centric technology to the sea. Cruise itineraries now offer more choice, the onboard product has been significantly enhanced and product and service innovation are being pushed continuously.

What are you doing as a business to appeal to this new generation of travellers?
In 2016 the industry average age of a cruiser was 55, at MSC Cruises the average age of our passengers is 45 so we have been working hard to attract a new generation of travelers for the last 10 years. Research is key to our business and we invest a huge amount of time in identifying what would make the perfect passenger experience for our wide demographic of passengers. There is a great deal of good work being done in our own sector to keep our passengers happy, especially with the new generation of travelers who have their own set of unique expectations, however it has been essential for us to look further afield outside of our immediate sector for inspiration too.

We are continuing to grow and develop our product and onboard experience offering through listening to our guests as well as benchmarking best in class product and service against related industries such as hotels, spas, fine dining, entertainment, etc. We then use this insight to make decisions that influence the onboard product, for example our Cirque du Soleil at Sea partnership which includes a unique and immersive dining experience.

Procurement plays a key part in adding extra value to the guest experience. Global sourcing and an enhanced supply base ensures that concepts and creativity are brought to life, but also, new trends and technologies are identified. A great source for new ideas has been the airline industry; where we have found interesting comparisons in the way they handle their operations but crucially, in the type of suppliers they engage with across all sectors. Visiting exhibitions such as the World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo (WTCE) has enabled us to meet some interesting companies with fantastic products that have helped us to expand our onboard offerings to appeal to our new passenger demographic.

How do developments in the wider hospitality and travel industries impact your business?
Airline, hotel, spa, entertainment and restaurant developments all impact our business especially in terms of identifying or defining best practice. Not only do we identify best practice, we also strive to lead where we can in terms of development and optimum guest comfort. This is evident with the use of technology onboard ships. Smart technology is now part of our everyday lives and we have been working hard to ensure that the use of technology enhances the human interactions that make cruising unique.

Given your experience in the air and cruise industries, how do you think onboard services differ?
Where is the cruise industry leading the way, and what learnings have you taken from air or rail, for example? There are many elements within the cruise and airline industries that are the same in terms of service and aspirations to offer the best guest experience. For example, fine dining is enhanced through using the best chinaware and glassware. However, the main difference is that onboard a cruise ship we have fewer size restrictions whereas onboard an aircraft, space is limited. One of the key learnings I have taken from the airline industry is that the supply base is far more global and adaptable than traditional cruise suppliers. The scope of the product offered onboard an aircraft is far less therefore there is a greater need for development, diversification and choice in items offered by suppliers, such as amenity kits. The cruise industry can certainly benefit from this.

What are the biggest learnings you’ve brought from your experience in the airline industry to your position at MSC Cruises?
The biggest learnings that we have adopted from the airline industry relate to global sourcing and the ability to customise products. As MSC Cruises continues to grow, we are establishing greater buying power which is opening supply base opportunities. In 2016 MSC Cruises carried over 1.9 million guests, each of whom will normally be on board for between 3 and 14 days. Therefore, our consumable requirements are especially significant. To look at this another way, this number of guest results in 140,000 meals being prepared and served every day. From my own experience, this puts MSC Cruises buying power in a similar position to many of the large airlines, hence to attend shows such as WTCE is a significant opportunity.

Why WTCE? Can you give some more information on your involvement in WTCE and what you hope to achieve at the show in 2018?
As mentioned, the size and growth of MSC Cruises means that the supply base opportunities are shifting for us and there are so many more opportunities. From my experience, the airline industry has a wealth of highly specialised, skilled, creative and proactive suppliers, many of whom can add value within the cruise industry. I intend to openly discuss opportunities with these suppliers at the show, as well as to review new trends and products that could benefit MSC Cruises. Amenities are one area especially where I believe there is real opportunity.

The World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo will take place from 10-12 April 2018 at the Hamburg Messe, Germany.

For more information and to register to attend, visit http://www.worldtravelcateringexpo.com  

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