From airways to music outlets, Virgin is known for shaking up enterprise sectors. The cruise industry is its latest port of name.
Sir Richard Branson has needed to launch a cruise brand for many years, says Virgin Voyages chief business officer Nirmal Saverimuttu. Now in his seventies, the entrepreneur has his luxurious adults-only cruise brand. The maiden crusing of its first ship, Scarlet Girl, was supposed to be in March 2020 – simply as Covid hit. First sailings lastly happened in the UK final summer time and sister ship, Valiant Girl, debuted final month.
The Virgin strategy to adults-only cruises are in no way new. However Mr Saverimuttu says the Virgin manner is to take a market and do issues in a different way. Not like different cruises, Virgin Voyages has added a tattoo parlour and file store. The normal formal cruise nights have been ditched, though there may be a Scarlet Evening the place passengers and the ship dress in crimson for pop-up deck events.
Nostalgic VHS exercises and dance performances have changed typical cabaret or karaoke-style stage shows. There’s temper lighting in the cabins, a wristband moderately than a cruise card and you guide shows and meals through an app.
For meals and drink, there are 20-plus venues, from champagne bars to pub-style lounges. Menus are designed by Michelin-star cooks and embrace a six-course tasting menu at the Check Kitchen. “The typical Virgin model is to take the best parts of an experience and remove those that don’t work,” says Mr Saverimuttu.
“Hospitality has fragmented into distinct groups with the rise of boutique and lifestyle hotels that people are willing to pay a premium for. Then there are also modern consumer preferences where people don’t want the stuffy formality or rigidity. We felt that the sophisticated yet relaxed adult-only sailing experience is what cruises have been missing.”
Virgin Voyages says it has seen bookings surge by 178 per cent in the previous six months. That’s a good distance from the horror tales of cruise ships isolating passengers in their cabins throughout the pandemic.
Mr Saverimuttu says it’s a sign of how hygiene protocols, such hospital-grade filtration techniques and all passengers having to be vaccinated, are making cruising safer.
Virgin Voyages, and different cruise strains, nonetheless require passengers to have a adverse Covid check earlier than boarding, in contrast to airways in the UK.
“The statistics for cruising are phenomenal,” Mr Saverimuttu says. “There have been no major incidents on board and no hospitalisations.”
He provides that vaccines have been a “game changer”, serving to Scarlet Girl launch with 85 per cent of crew again on board final yr. All crew are vaccinated and are going by way of a booster programme.
Scarlet Girl, now primarily based in Miami, sails round the Caribbean. Valiant Girl has thus far been crusing from Portsmouth to Bruges however will begin from its residence port of Barcelona for continental cruises from Could.
A 3rd ship for the fleet, Athens-based Resilient Girl, is due to launch in August, with a fourth deliberate for the finish of subsequent yr.
Mr Saverimuttu says common prospects of different cruise firms are simply as impressed with Virgin Voyages as first-time passengers. “Our core customer is close to age 50 but we have found that people from their thirties love the product,” he says.
“There is a wide demographic that enjoys the relaxed premium environment where you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to.”
He claims that cruising may beat different varieties of holidays on value, an essential consideration amid the cost-of-living disaster.
“It is tremendous value for money when you look at the price of a luxury hotel,” he says.
“Our average fare is $300 (£230) per night plus gratuities and you get wifi, fitness classes and soft drinks. When you stack that up against the inflationary pressures on hotels, in addition to being the safest way to travel, sailors may find a cruise is the best value for money.”