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Roberto Fusaro, left, leads day to day North American operations while Rick Sasso, right, focuses on strategy, including long-term deployment

Sasso sees MSC aligning for 'significant' North American presence

Since Roberto Fusaro took over as president of MSC Cruises North America in August, Rick Sasso has been able to focus on more corporate and long-term strategic matters in his new chairman's role.

'Now that this market is growing so dynamically for us, the company needs a corporate presence and a marketing and commercial presence,' Sasso said, explaining the thinking behind having a president and a chairman in North America.

Fusaro 'walked in and was immediately running on 12 cylinders,' according to Sasso, adding that he came from building MSC into the top cruise line in South America.

'He's the perfect guy to help lead the next stage of this office. It makes it easy for me that I don't have to spend the time training him,' Sasso said in an interview with Seatrade Cruise News. 'The company was blessed having somebody of that caliber.'

The two executives go back more than a couple decades, to when Fusaro was with Costa in Miami.

'I've been a fan of his for years,' Sasso said. 'It's great to have someone you admire and respect taking on all the leadership responsibilities of the office in North America.'

Fusaro's presidential duties include sales, marketing, operations and technology, and he's regularly interacting with customers and travel partners.

This allows Sasso to delve into strategic planning for North America, including long-term deployments. He's also involved in government relations in Washington, the Caribbean and elsewhere in the region, and with Cruise Lines International Association and Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. Legal, corporate business needs and charities are further areas in his portfolio, and he'll continue representing MSC at high-level trade events.

Sasso can now make more frequent trips to MSC's corporate headquarters in Geneva. Both he and Fusaro report to Gianni Onorato, ceo of MSC Cruises.

The company's 11-ship orderbook (counting options), its hefty investment to develop Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in the Bahamas, its two ships in Cuba and the new MSC Seaside destined for US deployment all mean North America has a much more prominent role now and in the future.

'This whole region is getting a lot of attention so it requires a lot more muscle, Sasso said. It's all organic growth, he added, and an 'extraordinary' private investment. 'For the past 10 years we grew very aggressively and built 12 ships. For the next 10 years, we'll have 11 more. This is the fastest growth of any cruise line.'

Within the newbuilds are three ship classes, and the last four vessels will be LNG-powered.

'We are the leading cruise line in Europe and in South America. We have tentacles in South Africa and are growing in China. We've been [in the US] 13 years and have two ships in Cuba. We are definitely on a very defined track.'

Everything MSC is doing builds up a mega-brand, strengthened by relationships with other brands like Cirque du Soleil, Leggo, Chicco and Eataly. In North America specifically, there have been ample technology investments, including a new website and enhanced booking engine, and further changes to make MSC easy for the trade to do business with.

At the same time, the on-board product has been enhanced, and Sasso believes MSC has 'come a long way in the last six months to a year on product delivery.'

Yet 'given we're new, we're still the best value in cruising,' he added.

'I used to go to sleep at night thinking that the next day I'd have to find another 10,000 passengers. I'll let Roberto worry about that. I'm going to sleep now worrying about where to send all these ships.'

He wasn't ready to discuss deployment, saying only: 'There's a lot we can still do in North America in terms of more visibility, more ships and more destinations.'

Sasso sees MSC as 'poised infrastructure-wise and capacity-wise. Our traction here has certainly got very good momentum. Everything's in place—the ship orders, infrastructure, the out island and the management team. We are positioned to manage a very significant presence in North America. Everything is aligning.'

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