MSC Cruises has confirmed the appointment of Giles Hawke as its new UK managing director, as exclusively revealed by Travel Weekly last month.
Hawke, formerly sales and customer delivery director for Carnival UK, said he was hugely excited about his new challenge and pledged to work closely with agents, describing them as "a key source of distribution" and "essential to the brand".
Moving to reassure the trade, given his reputation as the man that led a cut to 5% commission while at Carnival UK, Hawke said: "Travel agents are going to be absolutely core to MSC's plans. The brand is not as well-known as other cruise lines. It's under-represented in terms of volumes of British guests and it's not as well-known by consumers as it needs to be.
"We really need to build awareness and one if the best ways to do that is through travel agents who can then talk to their customers. It's one of the main reasons people go to a good travel agent, because they get good impartial advice, and I need to make sure agents are recommending an MSC cruise."
Hawke added that he would be listening to travel agents about what they think of the brand and what they need to help sell it better before he makes any decisions.
"It's very difficult for me to say exactly what I'm going to do until I've talked to the team and to our agent partners," he said.
"One thing is sure though, the aspiration from MSC for the brand in the UK is massive. They want to see huge growth in a very short space of time. There are no more ships currently on the production line but the line has introduced a number of new vessels, via high-profile launches. There will probably be more, and it's my job to get more British customers travelling on all of them.
"One of my priorities will be to ensure agents are clear what MSC is; what it stands for. They need to completely understand it and how it can appeal to different sectors within the UK market."
Asked how popular a brand MSC could realistically become in the UK while in competition with established brands such as P&O Cruises, Cunard and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, he replied: "There are American brands which have done it. MSC is the third-largest cruise line in the world with lots of beautiful brand new ships so there's real opportunity but lots of hard work to be done."
Hawke thanked the man he is succeeding, Giulio Libutti, for his work over the past five years.
"From what I have seen, Giulio seems to have done a good job - he has put MSC more on the map in the UK - and I wish him all the luck in his future," he said.
MSC confirmed Libutti had left the company by mutual agreement. Hawke starts in his new role as UK managing director on November 13.
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