Rookie: Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McCallbine with Sir Richard Branson
Tom McCallbine, CEO of the new Virgin Voyages itineraries, says he’s so excited he’s been waiting so long to get this business going. McAlabin refers to Sir Richard Branson, who dreamed of adding cruise ships to the vast Virgin Group empire 40 years ago.
Finally, in August of this year, Virgin’s first luxury yacht, the Scarlet Lady, is scheduled to launch in Portsmouth. It will start with six “stay at sea” cruises – three or four nights off the English coast – available only to UK residents.
McCallbine says Virgin will “throw a big party” for the first launch, hinting that Branson could stage one of his signature commercials. Richard won’t be able to miss being there in the UK and I’m sure he will have some family with him too.
Mac Alpen, a Miami-based cruise industry veteran, helped develop Branson’s vision for a “different way of sailing” for ten years, before working full-time in 2015 to complete funding.
He says he’s “ very happy ” about the number of bookings for the first summer sailing, and has called on the UK to launch a “ comeback ” for Virgin before it launches for US and Caribbean cruises from September, followed by European cruises next summer. “There is a lot of Virgin brand awareness in the UK,” he says. “This gives us an opportunity to showcase the cruise business, work on kinks, and prepare for US launch.”
Branson’s entry into the $ 23.8 billion cruise market wasn’t easy. It originally planned to launch Virgin Voyages in the Caribbean this past April, but McAlpin says the business has been in “ wait mode ” since last March, when cruises were banned due to the Covid virus outbreak on ships that started on the Diamond Princess.
Cruise giant Carnival raised $ 24 billion to stay afloat, and McAlpin says Virgin Voyages also got a “ equity injection ” from its investors – led by Virgin Group and US private equity firm Bain Capital – after its projected returns hit the rocks.
Organizers said last week that US cruises could resume in mid-July if ships meet stringent requirements.
Some may question the timing of the cruise company’s launch when expectations remain uncertain. But McAlpin says there is pent-up demand from Britons keen to spend their summer vacation once UK cruise restrictions lifted from May 17th, and that Virgin fleets will be one of the safest environments, with automatic temperature testing and hospital air filtration systems. To kill bacteria and viruses.
Passengers on boarding cruises in the UK this summer must have been vaccinated and Virgin will complete health checks with a rapid antigen test.
This is the safest way to travel – I can’t even go to the theater or grocery store and make sure everyone I contacted has been vaccinated and tested, says McAlpin. We know we get the right things to control it [the virus] And we can do it in this very controlled environment.
The Virgin ships, each carrying around 2,700 passengers, are designed to look like boutique hotels. It’s only for those over 18 to offer a more sophisticated experience than family-friendly cruise brands. The ‘adult places’ on 17 floors of Scarlet Lady include gourmet restaurants, spas, fitness studios, cocktail bars, a tattoo parlor, and a nightclub show by a Virgin Sex Specialist.
Mac Albin, who very recently turned 61 years old, says, “ We love kids, but parents need to take a vacation and have fun too. We are an adult-focused brand that means we can deliver a more unique experience.
Virgin is also aiming to do away with the cruise industry’s image of catering to older customers, saying it is for “the young at heart.” McAlpin adds, “We want to create an opportunity so you don’t be with the old people. But if you have a few years on you, like me, it doesn’t matter. This is for like-minded people who want to come and have fun.”
Branson is betting on his cruise line, which owns more than 50 percent of the Virgin Group and Boston-based Bain Capital. Bain also helped support Virgin Atlantic during the pandemic and bought out Virgin Australia Airlines.
To date, the tally has reached $ 2.8 billion for the four $ 700 million luxury yachts in the fleet, plus start-up costs and fundraising to combat the epidemics, which have not been disclosed. The ships, built by the Italian company Fincantieri, are financed by 80 per cent of the debt, which is guaranteed by the Italian government, and their total borrowing is understood to be several billion pounds. The fleet’s home base will be in the Port of Miami, Florida, at a $ 130 million dock called Terminal V that has been designed with a palm-shaped roof. PortM Miami is building the terminal, slated for completion in November, and Virgin Voyages will lease it in a 30-year deal.
Virgin has also partnered with Genting, the Malaysian games group, to create the Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Genting’s Hilton Resorts World on Bimini Island in the Bahamas. Virgin will pay an undisclosed fee to use the resort as a stopover on all of its Caribbean cruises, with sharks and yoga watching at the beach in the daytime followed by late-night DJs.
Once the fleet increases, the Scarlet Lady – named after the early Virgin Atlantic – will join the sister ships of the Valiant Lady, the Resilient Lady, and a third unnamed super yacht. The brave lady and the flexible lady will sail around the Mediterranean in the summer months but will only sail the Caribbean in the winter, due to the European climate. “I went to Dover last February,” Mac Albin recalls. “Oh man, it was cold.”
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