People will travel closer to home when cruising restarts, predicts the chief executive of MSC Cruises.

Joining a Travel Weekly webcast from Geneva, Gianni Onorato said MSC was “very well-positioned in this case” and could take advantage of the “opportunity”.

He said the line had ships sailing to the Caribbean from Miami and Port Canaveral, as well as others sailing from key source markets like the UK, Germany and China.

And he said US lines not basing so many ships in the Mediterranean would play to MSC’s advantage.

“It’s likely people will travel closer to home,” he said. “It will be very interesting to see what happens. Obviously if the airline industry is not recovering fully, you will also see less ships in Europe. All the ships usually with American guests – if there is a limitation or restriction on the availability of flights – you will see fewer American guests travelling to Europe.”

He added: “North American ships which were usually coming to the Med were also taking on board a small proportion of Europeans. But in this case, they will not be coming. I see this as an opportunity because it means we’re going to take more UK guests on our ships.

Onorato said that the destinations passengers cruise in “will depend a lot also on the evolution of the airline industry”, adding: “We’re well-set because in the Caribbean for example, we are going to have ships not only in Miami but also in Port Canaveral. People can be picked up at home; there will be more private transportation than public transportation to reach the ship.”

Addressing agents in the UK, he said: “We will have a ship based in UK so please take advantage of it.”

Onorato urged agents to be confident about the future of the sector.

“Be confident that cruising will be back,” he said. “Hopefully MSC will be back earlier than others to take advantage of it. It’s a very bad moment, but I still think cruising represents a huge opportunity for consumers looking for an enjoyable and rich holiday, so we must be optimistic.

“I know that it’s tough; we are all making a lot of sacrifices at a personal level and at a professional level; and that many of you are also facing economical difficulties, but we will get over this together.”

But he added: “Know that your guests will feel safe and healthy. And if there will be a situation where that we need to manage [Covid-19], we are ready to manage. Our contingency plan is very solid. And I’m confident because the protocol that I’ve presented in Italy and internationally has been very well received by everyone, not only by the media but also by the authorities. So they know we’re serious.”

Asked how MSC had been able to get its new Health and Safety protocols in place quicker than other lines, enabling it to re-start sailings in the Med this Sunday (August 16), he said: “Probably MSC in the past months has been less involved in managing repatriation of crew or the repatriation of guests and so on.

“We were a little bit silent in the media because we didn’t have passenger cases on board. We stopped the ships very quickly. We had only one ship operating, which was MSC Magnifica but at the end of the world cruise. So the repatriation of crew has been difficult but smoother [than other lines]. We are a small company compared with others. We’re not part of the corporation and so we can be a little bit more agile.”