Travel Agents: How Will Virgin Voyages’ Adults-Only Concept Work?

Carol Alexander, Richard Branson, Vicky Garcia and Boy George at this week’s Virgin Voyages keel-laying ceremony. // Photo by Cruise Planners

Earlier this week, Virgin Voyages, the new oceangoing line launching in 2020, laid the keel for its first 2,700-passenger ship, the first of three planned. In what was viewed as a stunning surprise, the line announced it would sail with an  “adults only" concept

While some cruise lines don’t promote to families or focus on children’s programs or activities as part of their onboard offerings, they also don't typically prohibit kids, especially those above a certain age. 

In contrast, Virgin Voyages is designating itself solely for adults 18 and up. So we asked what agents think of the concept. Will it work? Will it sell? Will it differentiate the line? 

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Travel Agent caught up with two agents at the annual CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. 2017 National Conference onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas yesterday. We also interviewed an executive with a major cruise selling franchise organization, who attended the Virgin Voyages event in Italy earlier this week. Here's what they had to say. 

Candy Steinman, owner and manager, Steinman and Associates, a Dream Vacations agency, Fort Myers, FL, believes “there are a lot of people who may like the all-adult aspects of these cruises,” citing honeymooners, couples without kids and anyone just wanting a kid-free ship experience. 

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” she said, while, at the same time, acknowledging that Virgin Voyages is “cutting out a huge part of the marketplace” with their new seagoing adults-only concept. 

That said, she also mentioned another example of a line which is also limiting its audience -- U by Uniworld, a new river line, launching in 2018 and designed for Millennials and Generation Xers; guests must be between the ages of  21 to 45 to book.

From another agent’s perspective, “there is definitely an audience or market that these cruises will appeal to,” said Dawn Beers O’Brien, owner, Wheelie Fun Cruise and Travel LLC, a Dream Vacations franchise, San Jose, CA. However, she also felt “it may be hard to control the level of celebrating onboard, even if avoiding the spring break crowd.”

Still, for those seeking a cruising experience with a 'no kids zone' atmosphere, similar to an adults-only resort on land, "this will [likely] be quite successful and another option to offer my clients seeking this type of vacation,” O’Brien stressed. 

Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO, Cruise Planners in Coral Springs, FL, attended the recent Virgin Voyages’ keel laying and announcement event in Italy and offered this perspective: “We expect the Virgin Voyages concept to succeed in the adults-only niche just as Viking Ocean has with their 18+ policy especially when it comes to attracting new-to-cruise – or 'virgin' – travelers."

She said there’s definitely a place for the family market in the premium space and there are companies that do it extremely well, such as Celebrity Cruises. “Virgin Voyages is looking to attract those who probably are averse to cruising because of their impression that cruising is too focused on kids and families with water slides, rock climbing and such,” Garcia noted. 

What does this bring to the industry? It’s simple, says Garcia: “The opportunity to serve a new type of cruiser – ‘sailors,’ which Virgin is calling their passengers.”

Still, some trade sources wonder if the "adults only" concept will stick. That remains to be seen.

From Garcia's perspective, she doesn’t believe they’re segregating themselves into too small a niche. She thinks it will be just right. “Perfect” she stresses, “as no one is in this exact space and they are coming in one ship at a time. I’m foreseeing a very ‘South Beach style vibe’ that will attract new-to-cruise passengers.”

From another industry leader's perspective, "Virgin Voyages is an innovative concept that will provide travel agents with more options and product offerings that are a great fit for first-time cruisers, Boomers, and Millennials looking for an adult-only vacation experience," said Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel. "It’s a great example of how cruise lines are innovating to meet unique consumer needs.”

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