He was named a president a year ago in Spain MSC Cruises, after more than 13 at the head of the general direction of the company, based in Geneva (Switzerland), although of Italian origin. Emiliano González (Madrid, 1951), advances in this interview on board the ship Meraviglia, docked in Valencia, the strategic role that Spain, with Barcelona at the forefront, supposes for the shipping company, which will invest 12,000 million euros in new ships up to 2027, four of them in the "ultra-flow" segment. MSC also plans to dedicate 28 million euros to the construction of its terminal, -more than 13,000 square meters of surface- in the Port of Barcelona. A project that the architect Ricardo Bofill has designed.
Question. What will it mean to have your own terminal?
Answer. It will allow us the arrival of boats when we estimate it. We will be able to guarantee a berth for all the base ports, which with the demand that is in Barcelona, is very important, and also those of scale. At this moment the company has already put on sale commercially the year 2020. The itineraries of 2021 and 2022 are closed although they have not been made public. The request to ports to dock has to be made well in advance. They are like slots aerial [turnos de vuelo].
P. Is Barcelona a strategic port for the company?
R. Of course. Barcelona is the first European port in cruise ship customer traffic and the fifth in the world, surpassed only by four ports in the American Caribbean. It is, for years, the first, with a presence and continued growth. In addition, a phenomenon is occurring: more and more customers of different nationalities choose the city as the port of departure and destination of their cruise. There is an economic return for the city, greater than what a client does in scale. The great air connectivity of El Prat with Europe and with other cities of the world facilitates connections that allow customers from many latitudes, but especially from Europe, to get to Barcelona with ease.
P. Has the Catalan conflict not harmed them?
R. No way. It increases every year. That is why we have requested a cruise terminal designed by Ricardo Bofill.
P. The neighbors have asked the mayor of Barcelona to stop the increase of cruise passengers. What do you think?
"Navantia does not have the necessary technology for the construction of cruises"
R. There is an agreement in February this year between the City Council and the Port Authority of Barcelona that delimits the remaining areas for cruise terminals. We have a point of understanding that can be extrapolated to other countries. The areas closest to the port to the city will depend on the Consistory in 2026. Last year, Barcelona had four and a half million cruise clients, compare them with the rest of the tourists that visit the city. They are tourists who contribute a higher level with a very high prescription factor. The client who makes a stopover returns with a longer stay.
P. What is the percentage of business in the Spanish market?
R. The Spanish market is tremendously strategic for the company. Spain is the second European cruise destination. Only exceeded by Italy. At the issuer level, Spain is the fourth market. The first is Germany, the second the British, followed by the Italian. Spain has overtaken France. There is increasing demand for new ships and destinations. MSC, in addition to consolidating the offer, wants to increase it, offer bigger boats, with more services.
P. So, is not the market saturated?
R. No way. Quite the opposite. The penetration data shows that in Spain it is very low. There are more mature markets such as Italy and Germany, with a population twice that of Spain. The latter has 2.2 million cruise passengers, according to figures from 2017. Spain had 504,000. We have a spectacular growth margin in Spain. And in the whole of Europe. What happens is that in these mature markets the growth rate, logically, is lower every year. In Spain there is incredible potential. The figures for 2017 can be doubled.
P. Are the good prospects because the sector has changed?
R. It is evolving rather than changing. The world cruise market is led by the United States, which has almost more than 50% of the market-emitting customers. But in Europe, and within Spain, growth rates show that it is a very aspirational product. In addition, the mentality that existed years ago that it was a boring product, only for older people has changed. The cruise is today a product for all ages. In the Spanish market we are, more and more, with first cruise passengers. On the other hand, the rate of repetitions is very high. Hooks up.
P. Are not you afraid it will go out of style?
R. No no. Quite the opposite. The stay in a city can be six or seven hours, but the day is 24. During the navigation we incorporate more and more services in order to diversify the offer.
P. Do you feel responsible for the growing turismophobia?
"Barcelona is the first European port of cruise passenger traffic"
R. No way. And I totally reject it. We must respect the wishes of citizens, but what we ask is congruence and real data. The cruise client compared to the type of tourist that visits the cities is a minority. It is totally friendly, with a very important level of expense, which seeks to have fun, have fun, spend money and come back with a pleasant taste for a longer stay.
P. What does it tell me about the environmental damage that is attributed to cruises?
R. It is not true. It does not respond to a reality. In the case of MSC, our environmental protocols are far ahead of European measures and regulators. The next boats that we will launch will be liquefied natural gas, fuel compatible with the environment and without emission of gases into the atmosphere. The recycling processes on the MSC ships are exhaustive. We are committed to replacing almost all single-use plastic items in the entire fleet. We do not throw waste water into the sea. When we arrive at port, those that have not been able to be recycled, are placed in containers and delivered to specialized companies to be deposited in the appropriate places. Respect is total.
P. What billing and benefits data do you have?
R. It is a family business, without partners. The advice is the family and the one that makes the decisions for any type of investment. The company always has a growth factor, achieved it in the cargo market being the second company worldwide, in an organic manner, without purchases, mergers or acquisitions. There are many companies that grow on the basis of purchases and takeovers.
P. It is not the case of MSC, according to you.
R. It has never been like this. Yes, I can tell you that the construction of a cruise ship is usually done with 30% of own funds and 70% of foreign capital that is obtained through financial institutions. The company undertakes the investments of new ships in this way.
P. Is there a growth ceiling?
R. It remains to be seen. The growth of the company is sustained. The investments that are made are very analyzed and supported by a growing demand around the world. The company has presence on all five continents. As the fleet expands, the destinations also. And we started new projects, such as thematic cruises and around the world. Now we combine the satisfaction of cruising with the fans and the tastes of the customers.
P. They do not fear a recession. Germany does not go through its best moment.
R. The German cruise market has been growing for three years. They were the seconds. In 2016 they managed to be leaders, in 2017 they consolidated and in 2018 they will grow. It is possible for a country to go through economic difficulties and present certain weaknesses, but they are not reflected in the tourist demand.
"The cruise client compared to the type of tourist visited by the cities is a minority"
P. Will brexit affect British tourists who use cruises?
R. We have no perception of what is going to happen. In terms of movement of customers and customs you will not see any kind of problem. As for air connections, as long as the current connections from the United Kingdom to Barcelona remain, there should be no problem. The client will have the same service.
P. Have you ever considered the construction of your MSC cruises in Spanish shipyards?
R. Unfortunately, in Spain, there is no shipyard ready.
P. Navantia either?
R. Navantia makes ship reviews and can build some pieces. It does very well, but it does not have the necessary technology for ships of 160,000 tons and 6,000 customers on board. As Europeans we have to feel proud because the three best shipbuilding yards are in Europe. In Italy, France and Germany. The big American companies come to Europe to build their ships. MSC builds in the French shipyard of Chantiers de l'Atlantique and in the Italian Fincantieri.
P. What projects do you have for the Valencian Community?
R. The presence of the group in the Valencian Community is historical and permanent. First as a freight company, which has been here for many years. 13 years ago we established a permanent season in Valencia and we plan to be many more years. Now it's easy to say that you bet on Valencia. But we already have more than 400 stops with thousands of tourists. The new boats will also come to Valencia.