South Africa is ripe for growing cruise industry, says MSC Cruises CEO

Nov 16, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson


“We know South Africa well and she knows us well as the biggest user of her ports. We felt the market was ready for a more sophisticated ship,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ CEO who since 2004 has steered the innovative family-owned cruise company through unprecedented development.

Today MSC Cruises sets the global standard for Italian style cruises with the world’s most modern fleet comprising ten ships cruising five regions around the globe. In addition the company employs over 12,000 people in offices across 42 countries.

“In South Africa, the container division of Mediterranean Shipping Company is by far the biggest user of local ports while MSC (Pty) Ltd is the biggest shipping organisation. This provides extra insurance for exceptional holidays guests can expect on our cruise ships.

“MSC Sinfonia, with capacity for 2,100 passengers, is almost double the size of previous ships we operated in South Africa, but we are so confident of continued growth in the cruise ship industry that we have confirmed a second 2010/2011 season for her,” said Vago.

He said the cruise industry is one of the fastest growing and most popular segments of the worldwide travel and leisure industry. In three decades it has experienced a phenomenal increase in passenger carryings, from an estimated 1.4 million in 1980 to over 15.4 million in 2009. The figure is expected to double by 2025.

Similarly in South Africa a 2008 study outlining prospects for the development of cruise tourism by Mitchell Du Plessis Projects has found that although the country only enjoys less than 1% of the global cruise industry the long term market outlook for the region looks positive with enormous potential for growth.

“MSC Sinfonia’s visit alone will effectively increase our passenger capacity to 70,000 for the 2009/2010 season,” said Mr Vago.

The Mitchell du Plessis study forecasts that the local cruise line industry also looks set to contribute positively to job creation. This included both sustainable jobs as cruise operations continued to grow and jobs in related tourism and hospitality industries.

A total of 1,104 direct jobs will be created in 2010 while the contribution to indirect jobs is set to increase from 1,124 in 2010 to 2,205 in 2025. Total job creation is set to increase from 2,228 in 2010 to 4,358 in 2025.

“This is an area in which we intend to play a major role,” said Vago who speaks from firsthand experience of the South African labour market.

He attributes his understanding and growth in the international transport industry to the 15 years he served as Managing Director for a local freight forwarder company headquartered in Johannesburg.

“It was a dynamic time and I love the country so much that I even chose South Africa as the venue for my wedding!” said Vago who delights in greeting South Africans with a “Molo, Howzit, Gaan dit lekker” and other English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu colloquialisms.

He also never misses an opportunity to return and was in Durban for the 13 November gala function aboard MSC Sinfonia to celebrate the ship’s maiden voyage to South Africa and start of her first season in the Indian Ocean.

Born in Milan, Vago studied economics at Cambridge, England, before starting out in the family business, Franco Vago SpA, a leading Italian transport company with affiliates on every continent. He was General Manager from 1985 to 1989.

On his return to Italy he took part in a joint venture between SNAV and Hoverspeed (Seacontainer Group), the leader in fast connections on the Adriatic Sea.

Vago began his rise with MSC in 2001, when he served as Line Manager for the USA, Mexico and Canada until 2003. He was appointed CEO of the MSC group’s cruise division in 2004.

Mr Vago said the company’s impressive year-on-year growth was highlighted just last month when the MSC cruise fleet welcomed their one millionth guest onboard.

He estimates that by year end 1,085,000 passengers will have cruised with the company, a 36% increase on 2008. In 2010 the company will be carrying 1.2 million guests per year.


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