Virgin Voyages, a joint venture between Bain Capital and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, made its United States debut this week, more than a year later than scheduled.
Ryan Cotton, the head of the consumer and retail group at Bain, spoke with the DealBook newsletter about the venture and the prospects for the cruise industry, which has been upended by the pandemic.
The industry has been desperate to get operations rolling again. 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, the credit rating agency Moody’s reported.
Some companies, like Norwegian, have staged battles with government officials in states like Florida, a hub for the industry, over legislation barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations from customers.
The industry’s pandemic woes have not dissuaded Mr. Branson, who has wanted to start a cruise line for about 25 years, Mr. Cotton said. (He still has his original sketches.) Seven years ago, he got serious about it and brought in Bain to help with financing 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 onboard.)
The venture’s first ship, the Scarlet Lady, has been cruising around Britain this summer on short trips open only to British residents. It was originally supposed to begin operations from the United States early last year, just as everything shut down. Some cruise ships were hit hard by Covid outbreaks early in the pandemic, which decimated the industry. But demand among aficionados has proved resilient, giving cruise lines hope.
“The Covid situation has not gone the way any of us expected,” Mr. Cotton said. But the vaccine rollout has given the new venture confidence in going ahead with a soft launch of the adults-only cruises in the United States.
The cruises are for vaccinated passengers only, and travelers need to be tested before they board. Onboard precautions include grab-and-go food options, capacity restrictions and an air ionization system. Activities on the adults-only cruises include yoga, meditation classes and late-night cabaret shows.
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