CONFIRMED: Resilient Lady back to Australia/NZ for a second season

LATTE chats exclusively with Virgin Voyages' Shane Riley, VP Sales

Resilient Lady in Valletta | Credit: Valletta Cruise Port/Facebook

Expect to see a boost in awareness of Virgin Voyages’ inaugural season – and future seasons – Down Under as Richard Branson’s cruise line makes a stronger play at the Australian and NZ markets.

That focus will begin in earnest with UK-based Shane Riley, Vice President of Sales in the region this week to meet with industry partners and ‘First Mates’ (Virgin Voyages’ name for travel advisors).

Yesterday, speaking exclusively with LATTE having just touched down in Sydney, Riley said Virgin Voyages was currently “getting our ducks in a row” ahead of Resilient Lady’s local season which commences this  December.

Virgin Voyages has been represented locally by general sales agent Travel the World for 3.5 years, with the cruise line headed here by Sharon Hando, Head of Sales.

“We’ll start to connect further with our existing, and new, First Mates and offer a look behind the ‘velvet rope’, so to speak,” Riley said of the concerted effort to increase travel advisor engagement with the adults-only cruise line.

Shane Riley, Vice President of Sales, Virgin Voyages, back down under this week

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A series of activations will be held between now and Resilient Lady’s arrival to “warm up the market” he said, revealing to LATTE that will include his relocation to the Gold Coast for a six-week period mid-year to gain a deeper understanding of how this market ticks.

“It’ll give me time to go and spend time with First Mates, get to know what’s working and what needs tweaking. Hopefully get an understanding as to how we can accelerate the business a bit quicker.”

Resilient Lady is the third of four sister ships in the Virgin Voyages fleet. Originally intended to debut in the Caribbean, Virgin chose to push back the debut of the 2,700-passenger ship due to the pandemic. Instead, Resilient Lady will launch in the Mediterranean inside 50 days, on 14 May 2023. Following a summer season in the Med, she will sail from Athens to Australia, via Dubai and Singapore, arriving in early December – a move confirmed first by LATTE.

After a series of domestic 2- to 6-night sailings, Resilient Lady will operate a collection of open-jaw cruises between Melbourne and Auckland.

Commenting on the Australia/New Zealand sailings, Riley said the local season has performed “incredibly well”.

“We’re juggling a number of other priorities and the reality is we were supposed to have the ships delivered 18 months apart. Now we’re taking delivery of two ships within six months of each other.

Shane Riley, VP Sales, Virgin Voyages and Sharon Hando, Head of Sales, TTW/Virgin Voyages

“It’s a monumental task to launch a new brand, and at this scale, so quickly. We would have preferred a much longer lead time, but we are where we are.”

“Given the fact we’ve done very little in market we’re incredibly positive about how the market has responded.”

He said occupancy rates “look amazing” and the number of partners wanting to align with the brand is “incredible”.

“We constantly have new members sign up to do business with us, so we’re really positive.”

“Without investing huge amounts in market, this region has proved itself to be an incredible source for us, hence why we’re solidifying further plans to demonstrate that we’re here for the long term,” Riley told LATTE.

That includes confirmation of a second season in Australian waters for the 2024/25 season, as previously flagged by LATTE in January.

“Yes, she will be back. Resilient Lady will return,” he confirmed.

The second summer season in Australia and NZ will go on sale around May, with Virgin Voyages already taking onboard some feedback to tweak some of the itineraries. Details will be revealed soon.

Premium positioning

One of the key focuses for Virgin Voyages is bolstering awareness with the trade of the brand’s premium positioning and “making sure people understand the inclusions you get”.

Onboard are six signature restaurants and 14 other eateries. The cruise line boasts there are no buffets or dining halls, and Michelin-starred chefs curate its menus. Crew tipping is also taken care of, there’s free wifi onboard, unlimited group workouts included and “essential drinks” also covered.

“People understand that the premium price point is worth it. The reviews are incredible,” Riley said. “The amazing thing is Australia/New Zealand has the proof points from other markets who have experienced Virgin Voyages already. They can read the reviews and see it’s worth the money.”

Resilient Lady's Mermaid livery that will grace Australian shores | Credit: Alessandra Nascimento/Facebook

Virgin Voyages also holds a global Preferred agreement with luxury travel network, Virtuoso, with Riley saying that association has gone from “strength to strength”.

“[Virtuoso] has watched us evolve over time and can see we are more and more relevant to their audience.”

Sharon Hando, TTW/Virgin Voyages with Sarah Bush, ATPI at the Virtuoso AU/NZ Forum in Fiji last week

Cruise financing

Currently only available in the United States, Virgin Voyages offers its guests the option to pay off their upcoming voyage through monthly installments. The payment option, or a similar solution such as AfterPay, may be offered Down Under in the future too.

“We see a strong uptake in the US market. Pay Monthly isn’t offered in the UK yet due to there being so many regulations to offer it. For the trade it becomes unmanageable. But we also want to have a level playing field for the trade,” he explained.

“We’re always open to new ideas. For Australia and New Zealand it is something that could potentially be on the cards.”

Virgin Voyages' team in Sydney this week included (from left) Mark Lowman, Sales Manager - Australia/New Zealand; Alice Nash, Brand Communications; Sharon Hando, Head of Sales/TTW; Shane Riley, VP Sales and Gemma Major, Head of International Marketing.

Bundled packages

Riley confirmed pre- and post-hotel stays would be introduced for cruises in the likes of Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, further noting domestic flights are also on the horizon.

“Fly add-ons is something that we are keen to accelerate. Having the opportunity to be able to offer a bundled package will be amazing. “Of course, we’re very close with our cousins in the cloud at Virgin Australia,” he hinted at the very likely partner.

Flight and accommodation bundles are hoped to be introduced ahead of Resilient Lady‘s first sailing in local waters in December.

Source: Cel Zepeda III/Facebook

More feet on the ground

Riley also flagged the possibility of additional staff on the ground in Australia. He said Travel the World have been a “brilliant” partner over the past few years and during the COVID pandemic.

“The guys have been amazing, keeping the light on for Virgin Voyages. We’re having conversations about further resources to service the trade,” he said, concerned not to spread its current team here too thin as interest in the local seasons builds momentum.

Just this month, Virgin Voyages appointed Mark Lowman as its Sales Manager for Australia and New Zealand. The former Princess Cruises executive of 10 years is based in the UK and will act as a bridge between the cruise line and Travel the World.

“We want to be able to support the trade and offer the attention they need and deserve. Having more people on the ground is definitely on the cards,” Riley concluded.

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