Growth Continues for Virgin with Expanded Deployment, More Funding

Richard Branson Meets the Resilient Lady in Australia

$550 million in new capital has been a major win for Virgin Voyages.

“That is the runway we need to grow,” said Michelle Bentubo, chief operating officer, in an interview with Cruise Industry News, who added the company is growing and will continue to grow, not only concentrating on its core North America market but pushing into the UK, Australia and continental Europe.

The $550 million came via a funding round led by Ares Management, with additional money from both Virgin Group and Bain Capital.

Down Under

In November, the Resilient Lady was heading to Sydney via Dubai and Singapore after her summer in Europe, and according to Bentubo, roughly 50 percent of guests were onboard for the full 45-day repositioning, and most of them were Australian.

She said Australia is a key market, and so important that Virgin is positioning one of its three vessels there seasonally.

Bentubo called 2023 a building year and said 2024 will be a pivoting year.

She credited the company’s crew as one of its key product differentiators.

“The truth is we all have dining, entertainment and go to ports. But for us, it’s the crew that strings together the experience. They do it in an authentic and genuine way that provides the right vibe aboard,” she said.

Aggressive Approach

Launching three ships into service since 2021, the timeline has been nothing short of aggressive.

“Right now we are going back and optimizing some of our operations,” Bentubo said. “We’re not afraid of putting something new out there and seeing if it works and tweaking it.

“As our occupancy has grown, we have had to refine operations to make sure we are not compromising on service delivery,” she said.

The company’s ticket pricing is straightforward, including most food options, Wi-Fi and gratuities. Sailors pay extra for alcohol, enhanced Wi-Fi and some premium meal options.

The best performing itineraries are the company’s core Caribbean products, the Dominican Daze and Fire and Sunset Soirees.

Three Ships and More

2024 will see Virgin realize full-year capacity from three ships, while the Brilliant Lady, which was set to debut in late 2023, is currently delayed. The company cited supply chain and staffing challenges in a prepared statement.

“We won’t deliver her before she is ready. We’re not going to compromise on what she will be from a service delivery standpoint,” explained Bentubo.

2024 will come down to continuing to grow and penetrating new markets.

“One of the big focuses is repeaters, and whether we are creating the experience that sailors want to come back to,” said Bentubo.

Starting operations in 2021, Virgin had no past guests and no database.

“We are at a 20 percent repeater rate right now,” she said.

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine Winter 2023-2024

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