Virgin Voyages eyes the “rebellious-luxe” cruiser

"If you want to differentiate yourself you have to be different," says CEO Tom McAlpin

Tom McAlpin, Virgin Voyages President and CEO at CLIA Australasia's Cruise360

Virgin Voyages has honed in on the “rebellious-luxe” cruise market, an audience President and CEO Tom McAlpin stating that the company are looking for an “alternative” and “new way” to cruise.

In Sydney for the recent CLIA Australasia Cruise360 conference, McAlpin said one of the most common questions asked of the start-up cruise line was “what market is it pitched towards?” Having listened to customers and conducted research, McAplin said it was clear that the adults-only segment was an underutilised space.

“We want to gather people who want to try something different. We want to create something unique and different for the underserved markets out there,” McAlpin said.

He told Cruise360 attendees that there is a “curious” class of consumers searching for “something authentic, off-the-beat and something different”; a product that will appeal to the “Instagram audience” who want to be seen at cool spots and participating in exclusive experiences.

“We call ourselves rebellious-luxe. It’s a different way to cruise. Think of it as stylish as a boutique hotel at sea. We don’t have a specific age group. It’s not about age. It’s a mindset for people who are young at heart,” he said.

McAlpin continued: “What people are looking for today is experienced-based travel. They are looking for boutique-style places and [are] after a lifestyle brand.”

The former CEO of Disney Cruise Line said customer research was steered towards a child-free product.

“If you want to differentiate yourself you have to be different. It’s okay to have a differentiated product.”
Tom McAlpin, Virgin Voyages President and CEO

“When we spoke to mums they were very vocal. Our original idea was to have an adult-centric experience and to have kids on board. But mums weren’t very comfortable bringing kids onboard. It became another one of those big differentiators for us.

“Think what you can provide onboard without the kids facilities. We can provide an elevated and more glamorous option. You’re not going to appeal to everyone but a lot of people will love it.

“We have an opportunity to do something very special looking at a niche product with a boutique experience and people are willing to pay a premium for it.”

McAlpin said the size of Virgin Voyages’ ships were crucial.

“We wanted a mid-size ship. 2,700 passengers gives us the size and scale but [is] very manageable.”

The ship size enables Virgin Voyages to explore islands that are inaccessible to the megaliners such as Bimini in the Bahamas, which sits 50 kilometres off the Florida coastline.

Ships will offer six speciality restaurants with no surcharges and a maximum capacity of 220 which differs greatly from the typical dining halls of 1,500 serving banquet food like those offered on other cruise lines.

“There will be interesting entertainment for adults,” McAlpin told LATTE. This will include a drag show, private karaoke rooms, Virgin’s The Red Room, The Beach Club at Bimini and a unique entertainment space that can be configured into three layouts.

“There’s no kids running around, so we are able to provide a more romantic, glamorous, elevated experience than what you get on a ship that has kids. It’s all of those elements coming together and creating something that is different and special and people want to go on and enjoy.  It’s just going to be different to other cruise companies,” he said.

Virgin Voyages maiden ship, Scarlet Lady, is earmarked to enter service in April 2020.

Meanwhile, LATTE can reveal that customers in Australia booking Virgin Voyages are now able to lock in prices in Australian Dollars. The move coincides with the recent appointment of Travel the World as its general sales agent in this market.

Travel the World Executive Chairman Andrew Millmore told LATTE he was thrilled to be working with the Virgin Voyages brand.

“Virgin Voyages have a one world, one price policy so the AUD is determined using the best possible monthly exchange rate,” Millmore said. That means the Australian Dollar pricing is updated monthly based on the exchange rate.

“Any sailor that deposits will have their AUD price fixed at the rate used at the time of booking. If a sailor wants to book in USD, then that is great too,” he added.

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