Virgin Voyages needs to "play the long game," CEO Tom McAlpin said.
That's why the cruise line is delaying the debut of Resilient Lady, its third 2,770-passenger vessel that had been scheduled to sail its maiden cruise from Athens in August. Virgin now will wait until the second quarter of 2023 to introduce Resilient Lady.
Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin with a Popcorn Old Fashioned, one of the creative cocktails on the menu at Razzle Dazzle on the Scarlet Lady. Photo Credit: Virgin Voyages
In an interview with McAlpin, the fledgling cruise company's CEO painted a picture of a cruise line pausing to ensure it builds a lasting product while navigating pandemic and geopolitical challenges that have dogged the entire industry.
"We are not just launching one ship here, we are building a new brand," he said.
McAlpin pointed to a host of reasons to delay its third ship, including supply chain issues that have led to struggles securing soft goods needed for the new ship. While the line could go without some goods or swap out items, he said the brand would sacrifice consistency.
Virgin Voyages is also struggling to hire crew members needed to staff all 1,200 positions on the ship. The trouble isn't in finding workers, but in getting new hires through the visa process to crew a new ship plus replace members on other ships lost to regular turnover, he said.
"We play the long game here. This is not about cutting some corners getting the ship in service. We want to make sure we do it right, do it on our terms. And this allows us to do that and launch the business on our terms at the right cadence and the right pace," he said.
Travel advisor feedback also was a factor in the decision to postpone the Resilient Lady's debut. Advisors said travelers were worried about Eastern Europe as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues, said McAlpin. The ship was planning to sail in the Mediterranean this fall.
A challenging time to launch a new cruise brand
Although the cruise line carries the well-known Virgin brand, Virgin Voyages' entrance into the cruise market has been difficult. The line was to launch its first ship in 2020, but nowhere in the original 2015 business plan was the company expecting to do so in a pandemic. But that's what happened.
The Scarlet Lady was delivered in February of 2020 but the pandemic foiled its debut. With no one sailing on its ship, the word-of-mouth marketing that Virgin Voyages was counting on couldn't happen, McAlpin said.
"We are trying to launch a brand, going from effectively zero awareness in the early days to where we are. We're seeing big improvements," he said.
May was the company's biggest booking month, he said, and website traffic has "significantly" improved.
The Resilient Lady, with a Latino mermaid on the hull, will be the third Virgin Voyages ship to sail since the Scarlet Lady debuted in England in August of 2021. In October 2021, the Scarlet Lady embarked on its first cruise from Miami.
The line's second ship, the Valiant Lady, sailed its maiden cruise in March of 2022.
"We're not a big cruise line that has been doing this for 50 years," said McAlpin. "We've done incredibly well."