When we think of competition, particularly in the consumer sense of the word, there is an unconscious assumption that we’re talking about price. Stiff competition certainly has a habit of regulating pricing and tends to ensure that no one player in the marketplace loses the run of themselves and starts raising their prices. Competition also benefits consumers in many other ways — some tangible and some not so tangible. In the case of the former, good examples tend to be things like improvements in build quality, functionality, economy, reliability and a whole host of other attributes.
Depending on how old you are, take a moment to cast your mind back to what a typical car boasted in terms of standard features say, forty years ago: No air-con, no power steering, no sat-nav, no run-flat tyres. All things that modern consumers take for granted and all because of market competition. If we go back just 20 years ago and look at the mobile phones we were using and the features that they boasted — again, we find that many of the things that we now take for granted such as camera, video, recording, water-proofing, calculator, sat-nav etc. were either non-existent or only available in the top end models at exorbitant prices.
And so, to the topic of this weeks’ blog. In recent years, there has been a veritable arms race of sorts going on between the largest global players within the cruise industry where each new launch has not only revealed ships of ever-increasing size but also of ever-increasing on-board facilities to keep their ‘captured’ guests’ content, entertained and feeling good about themselves. Last weekend, I spent a memorable few days aboard the world’s latest cruise ship MSC’s Bellissima which was launched in Southampton and what a beautiful ship she is!
In recent years, MSC has come out of the shadow of one of its biggest rivals, Royal Caribbean and is now building ships that are increasingly challenging the Miami-headquartered cruise brand in its traditional markets of the Caribbean, the southern Mediterranean and the Baltics. You’ve got to hand it to the Italians. They’ve been defining style for over a millennium and we can now add cruise ships to that long list. Bellissima has its fair share of bling with features like its Swarovski crystal embedded stairwells in the central foyer of the ship which extends over three decks but for the most part, the decorative touches around the ship are more subdued and classy and look more like an upmarket and trendy boutique hotel than just another cruise ship.
MSC’s latest addition to their ever-expanding fleet caters equally well for all ages with stunning facilities and kids’ clubs for everyone from toddlers to teenagers and food lovers are also well catered for with a good range of speciality dining restaurants located throughout the ship including within ‘Yacht Club’ — MSC’s unique ‘ship within a ship’ concept. It is however with MSC’s latest technological innovation — ‘Zoe’ — that the stakes have truly been raised in this escalating arms race between the major cruise brands. ‘Zoe’ is an AI-powered digital assistant that resides in each cabin throughout the ship and acts as a kind of virtual concierge to every single guest. ‘Zoe’ is multi-lingual and her AI (artificial intelligence) helps her to learn and adapt, the more she interacts with guests and who knows, perhaps in time, will be able to deputize for the ships’ captain if he or she comes down with some bug.
Seriously though, Bellissima is a very impressive piece of hardware and given the extremely competitive pricing strategy that has enables MSC to grow their market share in Ireland in recent years to the point where they now are the leading cruise line in this market, you would be well advised to check her out as a possible alternative option to that land-based holiday that you’ve been thinking of!