The cruise industry is awash with rumors that Sir Richard Branson is planning to launch a Virgin cruise line. The Virgin Atlantic boss has hired a US-based advisory firm to scout around for investors in the two-ship venture, which is, according to media reports, expected to launch in 2019 in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
So far, so not particularly surprising. In fact, it sounds like a perfectly sensible business idea if Branson can raise the money. Virgin is a respected brand and it’s highly active in the travel sector with airlines, trains, a new hotel chain and its tour-operating arm, Virgin Holidays Cruises. The cruise market is growing and the customers are getting younger and a bit more hip, which matches the Virgin image.
The question is, will Virgin Cruises be ‘different’ enough to attract this sought-after younger customer?
A Virgin spokesman said to The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, where Branson is rumoured to be raising funds, “We would offer more entertainment and leisure opportunities on board the ships, making them attractive to a younger market. We believe we can supply the Virgin ‘touch’ on cabins, leisure and dining facilities.”
But isn’t Virgin just a tiny bit too late to expect to be that ‘different’? This statement strikes me as just a tad patronizing to what’s out there already. Can Virgin beat the creativity of the décor and theming on a Disney cruise ship? Can it offer a range of activities to equal those of Royal Caribbean, with its ice rinks, zip lines and skydiving? Can its nightlife be as cool as the clubs and lounges on Norwegian Cruise Line‘s ships?
Branson is right to tap into a younger market but others are out there, already doing it, right now. It’s not like 1984, when the flashy launch of Virgin Atlantic Airways with its saucy imagery and novelty innovations rocked aviation, an industry widely perceived as staid, smug and boring.
At least a cruise venture stands more chance of getting off the ground, as it were, than Virgin Galactic, the entrepreneur’s much-hyped space flights, which have been subject to constant delay since the expected launch date of 2007.
If the cruise venture does launch, I wonder what we can expect. Glamorous crew in bright red uniforms, no doubt, and perhaps cool lighting like the airline has on its planes. And of course, you can expect the inevitable media shots of the leonine one posing in front of a scarlet funnel.
If you’re a Virgin fan, what touches would you like to see on the new cruise ships? Tell us in the comments!