Whether it’s signing The Sex Pistols or sending tourists to space, there’s little that Sir Richard Branson’s vast empire hasn’t touched over the past 45 years. So it’s no surprise that Virgin has dipped its toes into cruise ship waters; I’m just surprised they haven’t taken to the seas sooner! The news that Virgin will be launching three ships from 2020 was unveiled alongside the slogan “Let’s Make Waves” – and there’s no doubt the arrival of a new and very high-profile player in the market will do just that.
Virgin has selected PortMiami as its home port for its first departure in 2020 and its new mid-ranged ships are expected to hold 1,430 guest cabins, hosting more than 2,800 guests. They will offer a range of seven-day Caribbean itineraries and Branson plans to “redefine the cruising experience for good”, still appealing to current cruisers but especially trying to attract the new-to-cruise market. Here at Cruise Nation, our ethos is very much about targeting those who have never cruised before so we welcome Virgin’s move into the sector and hope it will be welcomed by the community. The more new travellers we can tempt to try cruising, the better for the industry!
While Virgin’s entry to the world of cruise will make the headlines, I’m not entirely sure that they will redefine the cruising experience as much they claim. The cruise industry hasn’t been standing still in the past decade and tour operators and liners have been working hard to shake up the traditional, and outdated, beliefs of what a cruise holiday should be.
More emphasis is being placed on tourists immersing themselves in the destinations they visit, as well as a focus on new and exciting on-board entertainment and diverse itineraries. At Cruise Nation, we’ve been at the forefront of the changing tide of cruise perceptions, showing that a cruise-and-stay holiday is a great alternative to the traditional package holiday. Having a well-known, consumer-friendly name such as Virgin will only accelerate this.
What Virgin Cruises will undoubtedly bring when the champagne is broken on the hull of their first ship in 2020 is the style, confidence and savvy marketing that run alongside their other travel products. In terms of attracting first time cruisers, Virgin’s brand presence may open the door to travellers who hadn’t previously considered a cruise. Virgin will certainly be hoping that their established customer base will give first time cruising a spin with them rather than one of their competitors.
I don’t think liners should be concerned that Virgin will completely corner this market though. If Virgin Cruises introduce more people to life on the seas then that’s great – but modern customers are savvy and will shop around. I’m sure other liners or operators will be considered once Virgin has piqued their initial interest – as long as they are able to continue offering great cruise itineraries. There are, of course, plenty of strong Caribbean options to choose from, with Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and Disney all offering luxurious and entertaining ways to soak up the sun.
Let’s not forget what a savvy businessman Sir Branson is, though. He’s not just entering this market to become an innovator, but because the industry is currently booming and the UK’s ageing population and the ‘grey pound’ will be an important contributor to the travel market in the coming decade.
Competition breeds innovation so we’ll be welcoming Virgin to industry in 2020. Personally, I’m not only looking forward to seeing what Virgin comes up with but also what the other cruise lines pull out of the hat to stay ahead of the game. It’s an exciting time to be associated with cruising and I think that we’ll see even more first time cruisers in the coming years – who manages to entice the most will be interesting to see.