Virgin Cruises, under the iconic Virgin brand is set to explore the next dimension, the open seas. Sir Richard Branson, the colorful, swashbuckling knight and serial entrepreneur is not one to sit on his laurels. Already a multi-billionaire with a finger in over 400 pies under his banner, he is set to inject novelty into the industry and make waves.
The leading travel conglomerate encompasses Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Virgin Trains, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Galactic for suborbital and orbital space tourism. The announcement of their newest venture put to rest rumors floating in the industry since earlier in the year. Virgin Cruises will be the first major new cruise line in two decades since Disney Cruise Line in 1996.
Ryan Cotton of Bain Capital said that with few major players, the experience has become stereotyped, and consumers are looking for the new and exciting. He believes that the industry is positioned for a new entrant. He opined that the group’s long history of success promises to make Virgin Cruises “a new favorite for leisure travelers.”
Their aim was to fully establish brand credibility before launching in the U.S., the largest market in the world, accounting for over half the cruising population. They recognize there is room for new brands. Only three major players control more than 80 percent of the market today.
In partnership with Bain Capital, and with Tom McAlpin formerly of Disney Cruise Lines and The World Residences at Sea as CEO, the company will base its headquarters in South Florida near Miami. Although for competitive reasons no launch date has been announced, operations will start with the construction of two brand-new “world-class” passenger cruise ships. These will mainly ply the Caribbean with complementary summer sailings in the Mediterranean. The new entrant will fit into the upper-premium cruise segment.
Virgin Cruises have a singular vision for success. Stephan Pagliuca, an MD at Bain Capital, said Virgin Cruises will change consumers’ traditional ideas of what a cruise vacation can be.
They recognize the inherent issues within the industry and will address them at the outset. They plan to remove the perception that cruising is mainly a seniors’ or retirees’ vacation option. They will attract the “cruise-virgins” (first-timers), such as Sir Richard himself, who has surprisingly never been on a cruise. Ultimately they plan to convert even those who have never considered cruising as a vacation option.
McAlpin states that cruise passengers deserve a more unique experience than what is available today. The Virgin brand has always put customers front and center. A spirit of youth, fun, and energy will underscore Virgin’s Cruises breath-taking offerings to returning as well as new generations of cruisers, as they launch into and take the next dimension by storm.
The industry in general is re-shaping its thinking about mega-ships, realizing over-the-top size, amenities and recreation options do not necessarily create the ultimate cruise experience. No one can optimize the experience on these city like structures. Customer focus is shifting to overall service and experience. The consensus appears to be that ships accommodating 4000 to 45000 passengers hit the sweet spot: big enough to provide expected and needed amenities, without losing the cruiser in the labyrinth.
“We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love,” Branson stated. “They’ll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a real sense of fun, and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service.”
The market’s overall faith in Branson is always strong. His yet-to-be launched space tourism flights are already booked at a price tag of $200.000 each. His latest venture will undoubtedly bring vacationers flocking to his ships to explore the next dimension with Virgin Cruises.
By Bina Joseph
Photo by Jarle Naustvik – Flickr License