While neither Costa nor MSC is making the big jump to year-round cruising in the Caribbean in the foreseeable future, both are aggressively expanding, and each reports an increasing number of North Americans travelling on their Europe sailings.
These European cruise lines are using seasonal Caribbean deployments to showcase their respective brands to North Americans. MSC is showing off its new Poesia, while Costa is inviting thousands of agents to sample its product while its ships are in the region.
Like MSC, Costa is aggressively growing. It's already Europe’s largest line, with 14 ships and three more (Deliziosa, Favolosa, and Fascinosa) to be delivered before summer of 2012. "The thrust of our activity beyond the Caribbean season for 2010 will be focused on Europe and exotics," says Maurice Zarmati, Costa's North American president.
While Costa is a very large cruise line internationally, when Ensemble recently announced the line as its newest cruise partner, they accurately described it as being "a niche product in the cruise industry" — a niche product with new hardware at very good price points, emphasized Ensemble CEO Jack Mannix.
Costa is increasingly using its Caribbean sailings to showcase the product to the North American trade. "There are many in the agency community that know of Costa but don’t know it well enough to sell with absolute confidence," says Zarmati. "This fall and winter, we’re exposing the Italian ambiance of our vessels to more than 4,000 agents, group leaders, etc., who really have never seen a Costa ship."
In the fall, 2,500 agents saw Costa ships in New York, Quebec, Boston, Pt. Canaveral, and Miami. "We’re very strong believers you can talk about the product all day long, but if the agent or group leader actually gets onboard, it’s a much easier sell," says Zarmati. "The response that we’ve seen relative to commitments is quite high."
Zarmati credits the programming: "We don’t just have the agents come onboard and walk around. An escort tells them about every public room. Depending on the time of day, there are lunch, snacks, cocktails, all representative of the experience–for lunch we serve what is normally served from the galleys."