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#GLF18 | Cruises: "It is our obligation to fill the boat 100% all year round" G. Azouze

Georges Azouze, CEO France Costa Croisières and Patrick Pourbaix, General Manager France, Belgium and Luxembourg MSC Croisières, sheds light on the growing cruise market, on investment issues, CSR, digital, etc.

  • Introduce your company

Georges Azouze, CEO France Costa Croisières: "Costa Croisières is above all part of a Costa Crociere group which is Costa Crociere, as it is known in Europe, but also AIDA, cruise leader in Germany, with a rather revolutionary formula in the cruises segment and also Costa Asia, a group of about thirty cruise liners. The Costa Group is backed by the Carnival Group, which is the world leader in cruises. Costa Crociere is now 70 years old."

Patrick Pourbaix, General Manager France, Belgium and Luxembourg MSC Croisières: "MSC Croisières is a much younger company, a 21st century company. We're celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. We are a private European company that grew rapidly over 10 years between 2003 and 2013. It is already a leading company on the European market."

  • The market in Europe is up 2.5% over the last two years. Is it natural or should we constantly seek and stimulate this market?

P. Pourbaix: "The number of cruise passengers per year is nearly 27 million (including 13 million Americans). The other half is the rest of the world. In Europe (7 million), Germany and the United Kingdom have the largest share with nearly 2 million cruise passengers each. The French market still represents only 500,000 cruise passengers, we can guess the growth potential for this French market first, then the European and world markets.”

G. Azouze: "In this cruise market, you have to convince, seduce and therefore invest a lot. Through advertising campaigns and the offer, which has considerably evolved over the last few years, the way the French and Europeans look at cruises has changed and the sector is attracting a much wider spectrum of consumers.”

  • How is the investment in this market going?

P. Pourbaix: "We are, in a way, the spearhead of investors since we are investing on a very large investment plan, more than 10 billion euros of investments since 2017 and the construction of 12 new ships between now and 2026. The plans to build a cruise ship take a little time, but once the construction process is launched, it takes 2 years.”

G. Azouze: "For the Costa Group, there are 7 cruise ships currently under construction, there are two announced for 2021 for the Costa Crociere brand, there are three for the AIDA brand and two for the Costa Asia brand. A cruise ship currently costs between 500,000 million and 1 billion euros. In terms of logistics and maintenance, every 24 months we consider that it is necessary to stop the boat for 15 days for maintenance in the shipyards. The occupancy rate for this market must be at least 100% to be profitable. We have an absolute obligation to fill the boat 100% all year round."

P. Pourbaix: "At MSC, the first 12 ships and 8 of the 12 ships under construction are built in Saint-Nazaire.”

  • Your new Esmeralda boat has cost 1 billion euros in investment. What's so special about it?

G. Azouze: "There will be 6,600 customers on board and about 1,600 crew members, while the average capacity of the other boats is almost 3,000 to 4,000 passengers. It will also be an innovative propulsion vessel since it will be the first large liner to use liquefied natural gas propulsion. It will be Italy's new ambassador for the seas, with a museum of Italian design and modern art on board.”

P. Pourbaix: "There is a lot of talk about big boats and fear of gigantism; we have to admit that a whole evolution has taken place and that today the big boats are more popular with our passengers. The big boat has changed the very concept of the cruise. Before, the experience of the trip was as a community, where common experiences were shared aboard the ship. Today, the passenger on a cruise ship is much more individualistic and has the freedom of a huge selection of activities on board. The cruise is no longer lived the same way as before."

  • How do clients live together? What about MICE?

G. Azouze: "MICE is important. Cruises on these liners seduce a very large clientele. We can segment in relation to budget, but most of the time we have access to the same services. We will segment according to duration and destinations: from 3-4 day stays to world tours. We have a very rich offer of nearly 600 cruises. We attract a younger clientele on short stays and a more senior clientele on world tours. We stand out as a discoverer of great destinations with cruises from Mumbai, India to the Maldives, from Singapore to Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, from Tokyo, Japan, not to mention the Emirates, and the Indian Ocean from Reunion. We are in a logic, with classis cruises departing from Marseille on 7-day trips, and then with differentiation for a clientele of confirmed cruise passengers who go to larger destinations and on longer cruises. MICE represents 20 to 25% of our activity. These liners have large units of spaces because as these guests transition easily from the cabin to the conference room, restaurant, etc. Conference rooms are extremely well equipped. We attract clientele who will choose short cruises (3-4 days) in the Mediterranean that are accessible from Marseille for often spectacular budgets. The quality/price/experience ratio is spectacular."

P. Pourbaix: "We are responding to this same wanderlust with an offer of more and more destinations, world tours, tribal trips. As far as we are concerned, we have developed a concept of premium cruises that is well known in the United States. Our ambition has been to become, to build the first truly premium European cruise line. We have also invented a concept that is a great success called the "Yacht Club": it is a very high-end concept with concierge service, butler 24 hours a day. It is a boat within the boat at front of the ship for 200 passengers maximum. One can live there in autarky, but the real asset is the service quality and the possibility of a multiple experience.”

  • Where does your customer journey begin and end?

P. Pourbaix: "First of all we count on our distribution partners to accompany us and our customers starting from the reservation. Today, at MSC Croisières, we are very preoccupied with digitalization.”

G. Azouze: "We attract 63% of first-timers for 7-day cruises departing from Marseille. A great deal of preparation, including in digital, is necessary for customers who have never set foot on board. We need to educate the guest. The digital aspect is therefore as important as the role of the council.”

  • What is the customer behaviour?

G. Azouze: "The European and particularly French customer will choose his cruise first according to the destination, then the choice of boat, cabin, company.”

P. Pourbaix: "For Americans, the boat itself becomes the destination, about 80% for the boat and 20% for the route. With European clientele, we tend more and more to see a mix of the two, 50-50."

  • How do you approach eco-responsibility?

P. Pourbaix: "This is a subject that has been a concern for decades. Everything is processed, the liners are equipped with incinerators, cans are compacted and already have a clear path to the crusher once on land. All these subjects have been addressed one after the other and have found answers. The last 4 ships we built are all equipped with LNG (liquefied natural gas) engines."

G. Azouze: "As far as we are concerned, we have been talking about sustainability and environmental responsibility since 1997 and we are the only ones to publish an environmental responsibility report. We talked about liquefied natural gas on the next boats, but we are already very concerned about the environment and sort waste, with a certain number of provisions that are put into use daily. In the case of Venice, two years ago it was decided to reduce capacity, and there are fewer liners leaving Venice. This civic behaviour also enables us to meet the expectations of lobbyists. Environmental responsibility goes hand in hand with social responsibility, particularly of the crew. We are committed to being very rigorous about respect for the individual, function, employment and non-discrimination in relation to nationalities. Crews are paid, treated, cared for and repatriated to their homes. We sign responsibility charters that allow us to have agreements with countries we cross and to promote provisioning of ships and local employment.”

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