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HomeCruiseVirgin Voyages raises $550 million in new funding, names new CEO

Virgin Voyages raises $550 million in new funding, names new CEO

After bringing its game-changing cruise ships to the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas, Virgin Voyages is charting its next course down under with the long-awaited launch of its newest ship on the heels of the news that the Florida-based company just raised another $550 million in funding.
Originally scheduled to set sail in summer 2022, Resilient Lady made its “MerMaiden” (the company’s internal name for maiden voyages) sailing out of Athens across the Aegean Sea in May. She follows Valiant Lady, which launched one year prior in the Mediterranean, and Scarlet Lady, the inaugural ship that sails frequently through the Caribbean. Virgin’s fourth ship, Brilliant Lady, is currently under construction at the shipyards in Genoa, Italy with a debut still scheduled for later this year.
Nirmal Saverimuttu, president and the new CEO of Virgin Voyages, recently shared more with Fortune about the Virgin Group’s cruise line, which has rolled out a debut global fleet of four brand new, state-of-the-art ships in an unprecedented small window of time.
(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
An aerial view of the pool deck on Virgin Voyages. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
Virgin’s third ship, Resilient Lady, is eventually going to Australia. Can you tell me more about Virgin Voyages’s expansion beyond the Caribbean and Europe?
So we’re now at the point where we have three ships in operation. Across these three ships, we’re going to 100 different ports, four continents. Part of what we heard from people is they wanted more interesting itineraries, more interesting destinations. So part of the evolution of the brand, because we’re launching these ships so quickly, the first two sets of itineraries needed to be largely similar because we needed to concentrate all of our marketing into one place. But now that we’ve established the brand, established the product, the next step is to expand the sourcing.
So we think Australia is a really big market for us. We have the Virgin Australia brand, the second biggest airline in Australia. The brand has a big affinity in Australia. Sir Richard Branson is very popular there as well. And they love cruising. And this product is very much attuned to what they like: great dining, great drinks, great service. It’s very much aligned with Australian hospitality. So that’s the logic of it.
There will be a series of short sailings, a few longer sailings, which we expect Americans to fly in for. A lot of it will be very similar to the premiere of Scarlet Lady, with short sailings out of Melbourne and Sydney, all for the local Australian market.
Virgin Voyages ships can host up to 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crewmembers. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
It’s been reported it’s difficult for cruise ships to be able to dock and/or get a berth in Sydney’s cruise port. Has that presented any issues for Virgin Voyages?
So we’re home-porting in Melbourne. When you see the itineraries, you’ll see Sydney on there. One of the things we are doing is that we’re introducing a slightly different program in Australia. So right now we have some shorter products from Melbourne, like four or five nights. And from January and February, there will be longer, 10-night sailings to New Zealand and back. But for the short sailings being so robust, we might change some of those longer sailings and short sailings.
Designed by Concrete Amsterdam, The Perch offers 360-degree ocean views as a secluded sundeck for sunrise and sunset yoga. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
When will Resilient Lady arrive down under?
She’ll arrive in December. She sails through [the Aegean and Adriatic Seas] through mid- to late-October, and then she sails a 45-day journey down. But those sailings down are sold out. They’re broken up into three 15-days sailings: from Athens to Dubai, from Dubai to Singapore, and Singapore to Melbourne. They were very popular; we’ve been sold out on those for about three months now, which is great as it just shows the pent-up demand for the Australian market. And there are predominantly Australians on those sailings.
A lot of the feedback, particularly from our loyal customers, has been, “We love the food, we love the service, but we’d love some more itineraries,” which was always going to be with our third and fourth ships about introducing new itineraries. So we’re going to be announcing some really interesting new deployments from mid-next year and beyond, which will all be based on customer feedback. People really love the late stays and overnights, especially in the Mediterranean.
A promotional photo from ‘Another Rose,’ a live dinner show brand new to Resilient Lady. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
There was definitely a perception that this brand was for young people who wanted to party. But what we’re seeing in reality is that our average customer age is 47, and it’s a much more balanced perspective. People just want to get away. If you want to go away and party one night, you can. If you want to relax and sit at the dock, you can. If you want to go to the spa, you can. So I think that’s one thing as we’ve been sailing for a bit longer now, people are really starting to understand that part of the brand—that it’s not just a monotone, go-party kind of brand. It’s very much this idea that we’re offering the attention to detail and the quality of a luxurious experience, but in a much more relaxed setting where you can be yourself and enjoy.
So everyone here should feel welcome on Virgin Voyages. It’s so inclusive, anyone can feel welcome here—whether you’re young, whether you’re old, no matter what your age is. It’s a number. And that’s been the lovely thing about the feedback—that it’s working for everyone, not just a few, which I think is what the perception was before.
The Manor is the ship’s signature nightclub, inspired by Richard Branson’s history in the music industry and his first-ever Virgin music studio of the same name. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
The fourth ship, Brilliant Lady, what is the timeline for that release?
She comes out later this year, and will be based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. She’ll be doing southern Caribbean, seven-night sailings out of Aruba, Curaçao, and more. Brand new stops, and again, that comes from all this feedback. The feedback was we want to go explore more.
With some of the itineraries, the choices we’re making, we are on purpose looking to go to slightly off-the-beaten-path destinations that are very difficult to get to on your own. So if you think about Valiant Lady, she’s doing Sardinia, Corsica, Ibiza. To do that on one trip is complicated, and the airfare is not great to do something like that. People like to come with us to explore. If they really like it, they can make the commitment and find a flight and go. So that’s why we always try to pick these ports off-the-beaten-path, like Bodrum, Turkey on Resilient Lady.
Well-being is at the forefront of the on-board experience, activated through a mix of high-energy moments coupled with relaxation and rejuvenation. Courtesy of Virgin Voyages
Looking forward, are there plans to expand the fleet, or launch a second fleet? Or move on to other continents, such as South America?
I think you’ll see us continue to expand the deployment, because I think that’s what people are asking for. You’ll see more interesting places, lots of different options coming. We think we can grow beyond four ships, but the plan right now is to just focus on the four ships. The pace at which we’re growing is sort of unheard of, so the focus has been on making sure we stabilize these four ships.
But even with all the research we do and all the feedback we’re getting, our rebooking rate onboard is 50%, and when Valiant Lady came across the Atlantic [from the Caribbean] to restart our summer season, we had an 85% rebooking rate on that sailing. People love the product, and they want to come back. We feel very confident in the growth plan, but also don’t want to take on too much. For us, the biggest focus is to make sure we deliver the product, to make sure everyone feels happy and satisfied. Because if you grow too fast and too quickly, then you endanger that.

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