Virgin Voyages, a joint venture between Bain Capital and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, debuted in the United States this week, more than a year later than expected.
Ryan Cotton, the head of Bain’s consumer and retail group, spoke to the DealBook newsletter about the business and outlook for the cruise industry, which has been shattered by the pandemic.
The industry is in desperate need of restarting operations. Three of the world’s largest cruise operators – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line – together lost nearly $ 900 million a month during the pandemic, rating agency Moody’s reported.
Some companies, like Norwegian, have staged battles with government officials in states like Florida, an industry hub, over legislation prohibiting companies from requiring proof of vaccination from customers.
The industry’s pandemic woes have not deterred Mr. Branson, who has wanted to start a cruise line for about 25 years, Cotton said. (He still has his original sketches.) Seven years ago, he got serious and enlisted Bain to help finance a Virgin-branded cruise ship. The idea was to bring to cruises the same sensibility that Branson brought to his airlines: younger and slightly edgy. (There is a tattoo parlor on board.)
The company’s first ship, the Scarlet Lady, sailed to Britain this summer on short trips open only to UK residents. It was originally scheduled to start operations from the United States early last year, when it all came to a halt. Some cruise ships were hit hard by the Covid outbreaks at the start of the pandemic, which decimated the industry. But demand from aficionados has proven to be resilient, giving hope to cruise passengers.
“The Covid situation did not turn out the way any of us expected,” Mr. Cotton said. But the vaccine rollout has given the new company the confidence to continue the smooth launch of adult-only cruises in the United States.
Cruises are only for vaccinated passengers and travelers must be tested before boarding. Onboard precautions include take-out dining options, capacity restrictions, and an air ionization system. Adult-only cruise activities include yoga, meditation classes, and nightly cabaret shows.