Sam Ballard sits down with Virgin Voyages’ Tom McAlpin and Stacy Shaw to talk about what agents can expect from the new line, which is launching next year
If there’s one brand that has got people talking, it’s Virgin Voyages. From flying agents out to New York to having Sir Richard Branson appear at the Clia Conference, they are putting a lot of effort into getting the trade on side. We met Tom McAlpin, CEO & president, and Stacy Shaw, vice president of sales & business development, before the company’s Scarlet Night – a star-studded event which saw Mark Ronson DJ to agents and industry – to find out more.
You’ve mentioned that Virgin Voyages passengers will have a particular ‘mindset’. For agents looking at their existing database, can you expand on this?
Tom McAlpin: “It’s people who have an attitude of wanting to see something different. They want to do something fun. The term that
we use – rebellious luxe – helps to define what we’re looking for. It’s a different way of cruising. It’s not marble as far as the eye can see and it’s not stuffy white-glove service. It’s getting what you want when you want it. You can be free and casual and have a good time – but still have a quality experience. It’s never nickel and diming. We include a lot – we think wifi is a basic human right. Fitness classes are included, basic drinks, although not alcohol, gratuities are included.”
Stacy Shaw: “These are people who want authentic experiences and like to go off the beaten path a little bit. You won’t find these people on the really touristy street going into the trinket shop, but you might find them three streets back trying to find that cool local restaurant.”
Does this mean you are looking for past cruise passengers?
TM: “We’re looking for both. We’re trying to create an experience that is different to any cruise line. We would not be doing this if it wasn’t a great industry. But there are a lot of people who are looking for something different. We will get first-time cruise passengers, too. We’ve got shorter itineraries, more flexibility, more things to do. We’ve taken inspiration from cities like London, LA and Miami to create this experience.”
SS: “We tend not to put people in boxes. We spoke onstage about parents, right? When they go on their family vacation they might want to go to Disney or sail on Royal Caribbean, but when they want some time on their own, they’re really excited about Virgin Voyages.”
TM: “Parents need a vacation too!”
Could you give me any more details about the agent event next year?
SS: “It’s early days yet, but we’re going to have as many agents on board as we can; the best way for people to get on board is to engage with us and of course to sell.”
At the Clia Conference you mentioned that leaving your luggage outside your cabin the night before you depart was one of the ‘norms’ you would question. Can you shed any more light on that?
TM: “We challenge everything. I’m not sure we can change all of those things, but sometimes it’s about pushing a little bit. We want to make everything fun, simple and quick and take all the hassles out of it.”
SS: “We’re both from the industry, but we’re in the minority at Virgin Voyages. About 35 per cent of our company have experience with the cruise industry – the rest come from outside. We’re now dissecting every bit of the industry and putting it back together.”
Agents are wary after Virgin Holidays switched the trade off –how do you allay those fears?
TM: “We don’t get that question from them. We’ve invested in FirstMates.com. We’re launching a new business – why wouldn’t we engage with the trade? It’s not about one ship. It’s about four ships now and more in the future. We are all in.”
SS: “We spent a couple of years talking to travel agents to find out what their pain points were, to build our sales strategy. It is entirely built on what they’ve told us. We’re in a completely different industry from the other Virgin brand and we have our own way of doing things. We’ve had nothing but excitement from the UK trade about what we’re doing.”