Last week, Richard Branson formally announced his intention to join the cruise industry. Virgin Cruises it shall be called. A unique name no doubt, but it’s Richard Branson, so it’s okay.
Let me begin off by saying, I welcome Richard Branson and Virgin Cruises to our industry. It’s going to be interesting and exciting to see how this new line develops and eventually finds its place in this ever growing industry. To recap, Richard Branson announced the formation of Virgin Cruises earlier last week. After securing funding for his new venture, Branson announced the new cruise line would be based in South Florida, launch with two new ships, and would seek to shake up the current cruise industry offerings. According to a partner at Virgin Management Limited, the new line would be “more informal, fun, sexy, hip and cool” than Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line. Additional statements from Virgin share a similar message and tone, explaining that Virgin Cruises will “shake things up”, “fill a void”, and “appeal to those who haven’t cruised before.” Well, in my opinion, Virgin and Richard Branson may be facing up an uphill battle. Or rather, a battle against the tide.
Over the past few years, the cruise industry has taken a unique path. Gone are the days of new ships debuting with neon lights, tacky furniture, a waterslide, and a main dining room. I mean look around, the newer ships sailing today have taken on a completely new identity. In recent years, the trend has become building W Hotel resorts at sea. I hear Virgin explaining how their ships will be modern and trendy unlike the big three cruise lines, but I’d like to ask if they’ve seen any of the new ships that those three cruise lines have recently debuted? I mean, Carnival Breeze, Norwegian Breakaway, and especially Quantum of the Seas are redefining the cruise experience – in a good way. With their new ships, the big three, especially Royal Caribbean, are focusing on continuing to offer a classic cruise experience with a modern twist to appeal to a new generation of world travelers. From modern designs, to technology galore, these ships are revolutionizing the industry. From my experience with these ships, I find it difficult to believe that Virgin could offer anything drastically different to persuade cruisers away from the established lines.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Virgin Cruises won’t succeed or won’t appeal to any cruisers. I do believe they will succeed. The only caveat? Virgin Cruises truly needs to find something special to set them apart from the current collection of cruise lines. The cruise industry is a different battlefield than the airline industry. Virgin Atlantic became a huge success due to the fact that many airlines did not (and still do not) care about providing an acceptable product or decent customer service. Richard Branson saw an opportunity to offer a better product and greatly succeeded in doing so. Now, he’s up against an industry that already does provide a great product with great service at a great value. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if anyone can build a successful cruise line in an already impressive industry, it’d be me. Alright, seriously, it’d be Richard Branson.
I send all my luck to the Virgin Cruises team and Sir Richard Branson. I truly look forward to following the developments of Virgin Cruises over the coming years.