Virgin Cruises: What Do Travel Agents Think?

Virgin Cruises: What Do Travel Agents Think?

Okay agents, let hear your comments on this one! We would love to hear your comments and thanks! ~ Happy Travels!


Richard Branson has pledged to shake up the cruise industry with his latest venture, Virgin Cruises, and agents are taking him at his word, believing that a healthy dose of Branson-style innovation is just what the industry needs.

“People are sick of cattle car, mass-market products, and while some of the existing luxury brands have updated their options onboard, most miss the mark,” said Angela Turen, co-founder of Churchill & Turen. “Most are so structured people feel they really do not have a lot of options. I am expecting Virgin will truly personalize onboard service, given the latest technology innovations.”

Tom Baker, who has sailed on well over 250 ships, couldn’t agree more. “The current cruise industry is lost in a yesteryear of tired and second-rate entertainment and is not hip or fresh at all, even with new technology being introduced,” said Baker, president and partner of CruiseCenter in Houston. “This entry by Virgin will certainly shake things up with Richard’s hip way of implementing products and services.”

In all likelihood, the Virgin product will attract a younger clientele to cruising, agents said. “We need a Virgin-type sleek, hip product in the marketplace with a focus on the under-55 traveler,” said David M. Rubin, owner of DavidTravel in Corona del Mar, Calif.

Mary Jean Tully, founder and CEO of The Cruise Professionals in Toronto, couldn’t agree more. “I feel that Virgin will attract the mid-range age group of 30s to 40s who still want to have fun – and they will no doubt offer creative stuff onboard,” she said.

In part, the power Richard Branson has as a brand will go a long way in attracting these younger cruisers to the line. “There are a lot of people who follow Richard Branson and like him,” Tully said. “He is hip and happening and I believe that a lot of people are still caught in the perception that cruises are for families with young children or for very old people.”

In addition to being younger, prospective Virgin cruisers will also be more active. “I can see Virgin doing fun and exciting things, such as skiing and diving, in addition to very unusual and off-the-beaten path things,” said Tully.

On the itinerary front, Turen said she believes that the cruise line’s port selection could mirror the international, out-of-the box options found on The World, the ultra-luxury ship with 165 private residences headed by Tom McAlpin, who has been selected as Virgin Cruises’ new CEO. Turen said she expects the line will offer overnights in port to enable guests to emerge themselves in local culture.

Not surprisingly, agents believe that the Virgin product, with ships in the 1,250-passenger range, will cater to a luxury clientele. “There is nothing this size in the luxury niche that is truly fresh and modern with attention to nuanced details such as mood lighting, chic design, fun safety briefings and young vibrant employees that has made Virgin is famous,” said Rubin.

For her part, Claire Schoeder of Century Travel in Atlanta is envisioning ships featuring contemporary décor, larger staterooms and a vibrant, charismatic staff. “The staff makes a big difference in the cruise experience. The airline is known for its service and I am looking forward to seeing how that standard of service moves to the Virgin ships,” she said.

“I expect a very inclusive experience, as that is what people associate with Virgin – no additional charges for gratuities, beverages, etc.,” Schoeder said. “And I anticipate that Richard Branson will find several unique things to include as well.”

Speculation aside, CruiseCenter’s Baker knows what he would like to see. “I am hoping it will be like traveling to a top-drawer St. Bart’s beach club resort with great music, current entertainment, the right type of modern cuisine and beverage, and décor that will please a younger, fresher, affluent audience,” he said.

In the end, many agents said they only wish a Virgin Cruises ship would launch before 2019 or 2020, which is when the brand is expected to debut – although recent reports have speculated that a vessel could be delivered to the line as early as 2017.

“I am most excited, to say the least, and 2019 seems far off, but it will be something we can all look forward to,” said Baker.


Richard Branson and the all new all inclusive luxury cruise liners coming soon!

8 Things Virgin Cruises Must Get Right

Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

Wouldn’t it be nice to go on an all inclusive luxury beautiful cruise liner experiencing the boutique and lifestyle accommodations, included as part of your package too, with healing music available, pampering with all drinks included with Virgin air as your luxury airliner! What a great cruise experience this would be with much more added for your pleasure for a vacation of  a lifetime roundtrip Virgin air included and best thing of all, no hidden fees?

This week Sir Richard Branson announced that he has a financial partner in his upcoming cruise line venture as well as promising to build two brand new ships to start with. He says that he is going to shake up the industry, which for him is apropos.

But with all of the hoopla that he will undoubtedly bring, will he get it right?  With only three percent of the traveling public ever stepping foot on a cruise ship, it shouldn’t be too hard to convince the neophytes? Or should it? Here are some of the things that he should stop/start/continue if he wants to appeal to the customers who have never been on a cruise.

Stop With the Nickel and Diming Already

Virgin Cruises should offer a complete all-inclusive package. You don’t pay for booze, excursions or upgrades to specialty restaurants.This goes double for Wi-Fi, computer usage and cell phone up-charges.One price equals simplicity, less stress, and more fun. If they want to make more money, Virgin can do it through upgraded rooms, exclusive experiences and in-room service staff.

Let Us Enjoy the View

If you look at most of the new cruise ships, that is exactly what they are going for. It used to be just pools and shows; now it’s ice skating rinks, bumper cars, and water slides. The Queen Mary 2 even has its own planetarium. If Virgin wants to stand out, how about down-lighting the top three decks and you can see the stars for real? The whole reason you are on a cruise is to get out on the water and enjoy yourself. Branson needs to deliver on outside activities.

Stop Going for the “Next Big Thing”

One of the biggest problems the cruise lines have is that they haven’t even perfected what is there and they are already moving onto what is coming next. I don’t blame them; for a lot of people that is exactly what they want.  Let the existing cruise lines have it. Virgin should harken back to the days of making magic for guests, over-delivering, and creating consistency.

Let Us Poke Around a Little

Everyone wants to know what is going on backstage on a cruise ship. They want to see the crew’s lounge and quarters. They want to know what it takes to run the food service. They want to steer the ship. One of the ways that Virgin could stand apart (and here is where they can charge more money) is by offering unique experiences while at sea like, “be a cook for the afternoon,” or “shadow the bridge for an hour.”

Experiences like these lead to transparency, understanding and appreciation which leads to repeat business, something that cruise lines desperately need.

You Have the Technology — Use It

One of the best perks that I have had at a hotel was an in-room pair of cell phones. From the phone I could call the butler, any of the amenities on the property, arrange transportation and most importantly, call the other cell phone to arrange to meet my suitemate somewhere or apprise them of my plans.

With the Virgin Mobile brand being under this umbrella, this service is a no brainer. Now what should be done is to take this to the next level. Instead of just a small phone, make it a smart phone with preloaded apps for restaurant reservations, amenities availabilities, schedules for events and even important messages about customs, embarking, etc.

Better yet, GPS/RFID them so that you can find out where your family and friends are so you can meet them. Allow the phone to link to the guests social media so that they can upload content about their trip and give you free marketing. #besttripever goes a long way.

Do What the Big Boys Do, Only Better

Where I will credit the big three cruise lines is in the fields of culinary options and entertainment quality, Virgin Cruises needs to continue this by creating more exciting, niche restaurant choices with no additional up-charges. The same holds true for the entertainment. Bigger names, smaller venues, and additional show times will make for happier guests. There are ways for Virgin to make additional money here such as, “dine with the entertainer,” “suite level only dining options,” or, “in-suite chef prepared meals.”

Continue Hiring From Overseas

For some people this is one of the reasons that they are not fans of cruising, but cultural diversity is what truly makes cruising great. Virgin needs to embrace this even more by having crew members give talks about their home country or introduce their native cuisine at classes or dinners. There are plenty of people who, while en route to Cozumel, would love to be introduced to Dim Sum by someone who is actually from China and hear stories about how their grandmother used to prepare dumplings from scratch.

Go Deeper With Your Data

There is a loyalty program on every cruise line and through your cruise ID card there is amazing amounts of information at the cruise line’s fingertips. And they do use it to an extent. Where Virgin can stand out with this is by really getting in deep with the data provided from the cards and the GPS on the smart phones.

Imagine getting a message on your smart phone that says, “you have only seen 20 percent of the ship, would you like to take a tour?”  Or, “you haven’t been to the casino in two days, there is now $20 in free play on your card to use as you wish in the casino.”  Or how about a message that says, “we’ve noticed you love craft beer and you’ve ordered seafood twice since you came onboard, would you like to join us for a beer pairing dinner tomorrow night?”  Now that is making magic.

Sir Richard Branson, I challenge you.  I challenge you to bring to the cruise industry some of the unique experiences that the big boys can’t do because they are too big or have too many bad habits in place.

There is a saying that says, “You can’t turn a cruise ship without hitting the dock a few times.”  You have the benefit of starting from scratch, and having watched all the other who have come before you hit the dock.  Here is your chance to come out unscathed.