In an interview with Kate Thompson Peace, Antonio Paradiso, Managing Director for MSC Cruises in the UK and Ireland, is positively bubbling ith excitement as he talks about the christening ceremony for MSC Bellissima.
The beautiful new cruise ship arrived early in the morning of March 1st, 2019 at the Port of Southampton and stayed for four days of excitement, razzmatazz and ceremony.“
She is the largest ship ever named in the UK,” explained Antonio. “We had been working on the different elements for the naming ceremony for a year and had a wonderful lineup of celebrities and artists performing on the day.”
MSC cruise ships have become a familiar sight at the Port of Southampton, the award-winning cruise capital of Northern Europe.
“Southampton plays a major role in our growth and we have seen more and more ships calling at the port every year.
“And the good thing about MSC Cruises is that we see Southampton as not only a port of embarkation but a destination as well. More and more European customers are wanting to come to the UK and 50% of our customers are coming to the UK via Southampton,” explained Antonio, who started his working life with the British Consulate in Italy before joining MSC Cruises in 2008. During his career with MSC Cruises, he has been responsible for the direction and management of operations in over 30 different countries.
Over the last two to three years, our business in the UK has gone from strength to strength and we have seen a 150% increase. We are one of the fastest growing cruise lines in the UK and number one in Europe.
It’s the first time Antonio has been responsible for a naming ceremony and he wanted to ensure it was a truly memorable occasion.
“I’m really thankful for a successful career and this naming ceremony is a key milestone for me personally – it is the icing on the cake.
“It is the first time that I have been the official host at a naming ceremony. It has been a great opportunity to say thank you to MSC Cruises and also to everyone for supporting us,” he said.
On March 1st, the ship hosted members of regulatory bodies including the CLIA conference, followed by the christening ceremony which took place the next day.
A significant celebrity coup for the event was the fact that world-renowned actress Sophia Loren agreed to be godmother for the ship – a role she has performed for allthe MSC Cruises fleet. “I am delighted that Sophia Loren is our godmother and that we were able to showcase our British cadets who will be taking part in a parade as part of the festivities,” explained Antonio.
And finally, on Sunday March 3rd, the ship played host to the largest trade event held on a cruise ship, before she departed on her inaugural voyage the next day. Experts from across the cruise industry were able to come and experience the luxuries offered on board first-hand.
“We welcomed 3,500 travel agents from all over the UK. I am a great believer in letting them see the ship for themselves – they are an important part of our larger travel family,” he said.
Looking to the future, Antonio sees the trend for taking cruise holidays continuing to rise with more families and younger people choosing to sail rather than fly. “Cruise penetration compared to the number of hotel beds in the world stands at 2%, so we have a 98% opportunity to grow our business.
“We are particularly interested in attracting Millennials and Generations X, Y and Z. We can see an opportunity for new ships to join the fleet and that growth will be completely sustainable,” he said.
In line with this commitment to reach a wider audience and tap into the interests of younger generations, the Port of Southampton was chosen as the location for the festivities because it is the largest cruise port in the UK, typically welcoming around 2 million passengers each year.
Commenting on the visit of MSC Bellissima, Alastair Welch, ABP Southampton Director, said: “As a Gold Sponsor for the MSC naming ceremony, we were delighted to welcome this grand new ship to the port and work with MSC Cruises on a ceremony that the city won’t forget.
“Southampton is a significant port for cruise ships and we will continue to adapt so that we are ready to meet the needs of this growing industry.”