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Princess Cruises downsizes in Asia, MSC and others come in

Princess Cruises remains optimistic about starting cruises from Japan in March
Princess Cruises is downsizing its Asia workforce in a regional restructuring just as news of MSC and Celebrity planning deployments in the area.

'Given the continued uncertainty of when a full restart of international cruises may resume across all of Asia, Princess has decided to reorganize its structure in the region,' the line said in a statement to Seatrade Cruise News.

Shift in focus

'Asia remains an important destination and source market for Princess, and we remain optimistic about sailing in the region in the next year,' the statement continued. 'In the meantime we are shifting our focus in other markets to work closely with our local travel agent partners to grow our sourcing for longer haul fly-cruising. Princess is working with its employees, partners and local stakeholders in Asia affected by the reorganization.'

The line did not address numbers but said teams in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan were impacted.

Optimistic for Japan cruises starting in March

The Princess statement added: 'We have continued to work closely with local authorities in the region to secure a safe resumption of cruises since our operation paused at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. We remain optimistic that our continued discussions with authorities in Japan will allow us to return there in March 2023.'

Japan's public health officials have not yet given the green light to international cruise ships, though domestic cruises have been operating.

Down from a couple hundred employees

According to Trey Hickey, who was SVP international for Princess Cruises and Carnival plc, chief representative officer of Carnival China and president of Carnival Japan until May 2020, Princess at its peak had a couple hundred employees across Asia.

The region is now overseen by Princess Cruises' Australia-based Stuart Allison, SVP Asia Pacific, UK & Europe.

Hickey, who remains active in Asia but is no longer associated with Princess/Carnival, understands the line's regional head count is now down to approximately 10, excluding about 25 in Japan for now.

Japan-Korea cruises and MSC's entry

The Korea Times recently reported cruises will return to Jeju Island in 2023 after the pandemic hiatus, with ships arriving from Japan. The Times said the lineup includes 15 calls by Princess and 14 by MSC Cruises.

The MSC ship wasn't mentioned, but MSC Bellissima is expected to be deployed from Japan, pending approval from authorities there. 

With Costa Cruises entirely out of Asia, and Princess downsizing, MSC Cruises and others have a rare window of opportunity.

Royal Caribbean, which based multiple ships there pre-pandemic, keeps a (big) toehold in Singapore with Spectrum of the Seas and is looking to return to Hong Kong.

Celebrity Cruises

Just today, Celebrity Cruises announced it will be going year-round in Asia, from April 2024 to April 2025. Half of that is a long Japan deployment.

It's a 'great move' by Celebrity, Hickey said, who added he thinks MSC is well-positioned to grow across Asia, with sourcing in countries including China.

Hickey sits on the board of Blue World Acquisition Corp.a SPAC that raised $100m and is pursuing opportunities in the cruise industry. Separately, he's also working with a private equity group of former KKR people that raised more than $250m in committed operating capital and bid for Global Dream and World Dream.

Hickey believes Global Dream is going to Disney Cruise Line, as earlier reported here, however World Dream is still in play and he reiterated his group's interest in Genting Dream, currently sailing for Resorts World Cruises on lease from a consortium of Chinese banks.

'Unprecedented opportunity'

'For anyone with longer-term strategy and vision, there's an unprecedented opportunity now,' Hickey said of Asia, with some lines leaving just as destinations are reopening.