Seatrade: What’s Ahead for Virgin Voyages, Ritz-Carlton Yachts

Virgin Ritz-Carlton Panel Photo by Rory Creative on behalf of Seatrade Cruise Global 2018 For Editorial Use Only
Travel journalist Peter Greenberg of CBS News interviews Tom McAlpin, president and CEO, Virgin Voyages, and Douglas Prothero, managing director, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, on the upcoming launch of their new cruise brands. // Photo by Rory Creative on behalf of Seatrade Cruise Global 2018

In the second part of Seatrade Cruise Global's State of the Industry discussion, travel journalist Peter Greenberg of CBS News interviewed Tom McAlpin, president and CEO, Virgin Voyages, launching in 2020, and Douglas Prothero, managing director, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, launching in 2019.

"But you don't call yourself a cruise line?" Greenberg asked Prothero. No, the brand is "the yacht collection," said Prothero.  

In researching, the new Ritz-Carlton brand asked travel partners and past guests what the ship should look like. "We knew we were going to build a yacht, but the detail of it, what amenities should be there, what the suites should look like -- that's driven the process," Prothero said, noting that applies to every element. 

Both new brands have loyal past guests that they should be able to tap into as future cruise guests -- Ritz-Carlton in hospitality and Virgin in airlines and entertainment. 

Even 8 percent of "cruise skeptics" -- those who say they don't think they want to cruise -- would go on a Virgin Voyages cruise, said McAlpin. Both executives believe their new products will attract first-timers onboard.  

After the Starwood acquisition, Ritz-Carlton became the ninth brand in the Starwood Luxury Collection. So the new yacht's 149 suites are part of a portfolio of 76,000 luxury hotel accommodations worldwide, Prothero noted. 

He said the first yacht -- with two more to follow -- will have "a lot of intimate spaces" and five dining venues for just 300 guests, with each of those divided into smaller space. So the largest dining venue only serves 150 guests. "It will replicate as close as possible a yachting lifestyle," he said. 

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection also plans to bring celebrity chefs from the local communities and local artisans onboard.  

Prothero, who has served as a captain, is experienced in yacht charter, investment banking and maritime transactions. He said the line was working with just one designer because it wanted a cohesive experience throughout the entire luxury yacht design.

All Ritz-Carlton yacht accommodations are being designed with balconies. Even on the lower deck, guests in duplexes will have a bedroom on that lower level but an upper deck with a terrace.

Itineraries will call at smaller ports across the globe, and one itinerary the yachting brand wants to add as it grows is the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes; that could be coupled with Ritz-Carlton stays in both Chicago and Montreal, Prothero said. 

When Virgin Voyages, which will home port in Miami, thinks about the experience it plans onboard, "it really starts with the name," said McAlpin, referring to the cultural appeal surrounding the Virgin brand. 

As the line's new headquarters' building in Plantation, FL, conveys with a bright red elevator lobby and an open office concept with no corner offices, Virgin doesn't like to follow the crowd. 

That office will house reservations agents as well, "as it's important [for those employees] to understand the culture," McAlpin said. As for guests, McAlpin wants them to come off a voyage and not simply say the experience was the best vacation, but instead, that "it was the best week of my life."

In addition, "guests told us they were concerned with scale," he said, so that's why Virgin designed them a bit smaller than what some other big ships are.

The three new ships will also have a distinct bow shape, silver and grey elements, smoked glass and mood lighting. McAlpin's "take"?: "When you see that ship at any port around the globe, you're going to say, 'that's the Virgin ship.'" 

Inside, he said both the cabins and food and beverage services will be different, and there will be a "lot more entertainment venues around the ship." Ashore, the line will concentrate on curated destination experiences, although he didn't provide details.

While Virgin knew it would have an adult-centric product, after additional research, consumers told the line that even when kids were onboard and there were options, the parents really didn't get a relaxing vacation.

So that's when the new line opted to go adults-only in concept. "It's bold, it's different," said McAlpin."It's not going to be for all people." 

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