Cruise Nuances: Marketing New, Pandemic-Delayed Virgin Voyages

No travel segment was more devastated by the pandemic than cruising, with early-crisis headlines and wall-to-wall media portraying ships filled with sick people. But the desire and demand for seagoing holidays has proven strong enough that the industry is getting its -- um, sea legs?  -- surprisingly quickly.

But what about a cruise line that was about to make its debut in April of 2020 and had to wait until just recently to set sail with its first vessel, Scarlet Lady? Well, that line is Virgin Voyages, and the positive news is that it’s the seagoing child of a brand – Virgin -- with a history of sharp marketing, as embodied in the person of founder Richard Branson.

Virgin Voyages says it is bringing, yes, a “sea of change” to cruising. It aims to differentiate by: calling passengers “Sailors”; including many amenities and services in the price – from WiFi to unlimited group fitness classes; catering only to adults; offering more than 20 eateries ranging from Korean BBQ to diner classics; staging  “immersive entertainment” it claims is a world away from the classic onboard fare; and  “Shake for Champagne,” with passengers being able to request champagne anywhere on board with a shake of their phone.



Before the pandemic, the marketing goal was not to sell cruising as a concept, but to “bring our own credentials forward,” said Nathan Rosenberg, CMO. Management, with its marketing background, aimed to create more of a lifestyle hotel experience: sophisticated but relaxed, emulating lodgings like the Public Hotel in New York and the Standard in Miami.

Once the pandemic kicked in, said Rosenberg, the company had to convince customers to put down thousands of dollars for a product they had never seen. The campaign began with social and earned media, then was amped up to include multiple platforms -- including television and digital assets. The message was that if you sail with Virgin Voyages, “you will come back transformed.” The line played to the idea of being youthful in spirit and mindset, if not in age. Passengers could play chess or lie in their balcony hammock -- or stay up dancing all night.

Thanks to the loyal following of the Virgin brand, said Rosenberg, the company had contact information for hundreds of thousands of potential Sailors. Throughout the pandemic, the company reminded consumers that when this period ended, “we will be the place you want to be.”

An important and timely plus, said Rosenberg, was that the ships were designed around well being -- manifested most prominently in spas and outdoor spaces. Cruising with Virgin Voyages, would be a way to “replenish the energy supply that had been worn down for the last year and a half,” building on the accessible luxury long ago honed on Branson’s private vacation oasis, Necker Island.

But the company did not neglect the value factor. Rosenberg said Virgin Voyages is more of a premium product because it collaborated with world-class designers to create the ships. But because of the inclusions, he said, “we offer a strong value proposition.”

“We have always said,” said Rosenberg, “that this is the cruise for non-cruisers.”  He explained that while some classic traditions have been disrupted, longtime cruisers will be comfortable on board because they can shape their own experiences.

While the Scarlet Lady is sailing from Miami to the Caribbean, future ships will be in Europe and elsewhere. Since it’s part of a brand with global reach, said Rosenberg, the line should be able to broaden its geographical reach.

3 comments about "Cruise Nuances: Marketing New, Pandemic-Delayed Virgin Voyages".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, November 15, 2021 at 2:47 p.m.

    Given the importance of families to the cruise industry, it will be interesting to see how an "adults only" brand will do, especially during the summer months. Frequent experienced cruisers may also be skeptical at first. I wish Virgin good luck. 

  2. R. M. from self replied, November 16, 2021 at 4:12 a.m.

    The brand has always been an older demo, sans kiddies. It's extension of the many years of global river crusing.  I dont think the age is an issue, it's more likely to be ports of call that are current question... downgrading Europe to Carribean islands that are tourist ravaged, and not very high brow.  "cruise for non-cruisers" is very on brand... but disagree that "dancing all night" is likey unless the big ships drastically pull down the avg age.
    The pandemic has been a nice PR cover for the many cruise lines with lawsuits for being global waste dumpers. Interested to see if Viking will address the sewage treatment, oil leaks and other plauges of floating cities.

  3. R. M. from self, November 16, 2021 at 4:16 a.m.

    ooops.  Got caught in the branding issue, btwn the Virgin company ships & the new Viking ocean ships. Disregard comment.  

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications