Brits will begin to book MSC Cruises once they see other nations boarding the ships, according to the Italian cruise line’s chief executive.

UK visitors will not be able to sail on MSC Cruises restart sailings next week, but Gianni Onorato  believes seeing ships operating again will “drive an acceleration of bookings” in the UK for winter and beyond.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Onorato said: “The cruises for this restart are for the Shengen market, which usually in our terminology, this has always been Schengen plus Switzerland and UK.

“The Swiss will come but unfortunately, UK guests not yet,” he said. “We should wait for the approval from the UK Government Foreign Office but obviously these restart cruises can also be a big driver for an acceleration of bookings for winter.

“If people don’t see practically that cruises are there, in operation, they don’t have the last push in order to book,” he said.

Onorato said MSC’s announcement last week about its new health and safety protocols would also give consumers more confidence to book.

“We have made some investigations with our best friends, the travel agents, and we have found a huge enthusiasm.  And these measures like the swab test for all, the shore excursion procedures etc, they’ve all very been very positive and right. Customers will appreciate that,” he said.

Onorato said while not disastrous, winter bookings needed a boost.

“So we’ve seen that the for winter, although not too dramatically bad, the situation is still far away from where it should be,” he said.

By contrast, he said 2021 bookings from the spring onwards were stronger. “Starting from spring [2021], things are doing very well. We are very pleased about the decision of MSC Magnifica out of Southampton. Our team is doing an incredible job. So in general, summer 2021 is showing very, very good numbers.

“We are obviously ahead of last year; much more ahead, because most people are using the vouchers. They are looking at the next summer. Some of the people have already decided; some others have not decided yet. And so it’s quite promising.”

Onorato described news of Covid outbreaks on Hurtigruten and Paul Gaugin cruises last week as “not good news”.

But he said: “I’ve heard that the protocols have not always been followed 100 per cent. And I’ve seen that in some cases, there has been some miscommunication.”

Onorato was confident that the new measures his line would be operating would not fail.

“Two days ago, we embarked 400 crew members, and all these 400 crew members had to have tested negative before leaving home. They arrived here and we tested them again. And there was one out of 400 that tested positive,” he said.

“For the crew, we have planned the three consecutive tests. If all three consecutive tests are negative, and you have more than 14 days between the first test and the last test, you can be very, very confident that you have a healthy person.

“To find out there was one positive case is proof that our protocol is working.”

Onorato claimed it was easier to implement social distancing on a larger ship.

“With respect, our ships are bigger than the ones you are referring to. We are dedicating 10 square meters of public areas per person. Because I think that in this case, the implementation of the protocol, which is a mixed of a social distancing and wearing of masks, is the key,” he said.

And he added that masks would be compulsory on board “whenever social distancing is not possible”.

“If I go to the theatre to watch the show, while I’m entering the theatre, I need to wear a mask, then when I’m seated, I don’t wear the mask,” he explained. “When I go to the restaurant, I need to wear the mask, but this is what is happening everywhere in the world in those counties that have really decided to fight the virus.”