Virgin Atlantic’s new service to the Bahamas will offer British customers more opportunities for twin-centre holidays incorporating a cruise with sister brand Virgin Voyages, according to the line’s UK chief.
The airline began its twice-weekly service from Heathrow to Nassau on November 20, opening up options for a week’s stay in the Bahamas followed by a sailing from Miami on Scarlet Lady.
Shane Lewis-Riley, Virgin Voyages’ associate vice-president for the UK and Australia, said: “There will be lots of opportunities to do ‘double red’.”
He was speaking to Travel Weekly on the airline’s inaugural press trip to the Bahamas, which will include a chance for journalists and bloggers to spend an afternoon on Scarlet Lady – the cruise line’s first ship.
“This is a demonstration of the Virgin brands coming together closer than ever before,” he said. “The silver lining of the pandemic is that we had time to assess working together.
There is a clear direction of Virgin Group collaboration – across Virgin Voyages, Holidays and Atlantic. The trade expects collaboration across the brands.”
As well as opportunities for twin-centres with Virgin Voyages and a Bahamas holiday, customers could fly with the airline to New York or Las Vegas, for instance, before flying to Miami for their cruise – instead of an overnight in Miami.
“People are spending more money,” said Lewis-Riley. “They are definitely buying more suites – the ship is selling from the top down.”
After showcasing the ship on Thursday, Lewis-Riley and his colleague Luke Day – national training lead – will fly to the cruise line’s office in Miami on Friday for their first face-to-face leadership meeting in two years.
“We will be talking about key objectives for the trade,” said Lewis-Riley.
He hailed the trade support over the course of the pandemic and will soon reveal “big plans” for the wave period in January and the launch of two more ships in 2022.
“The proportion of trade sales has grown by a double-digit increase over the last six months,” he said.
“During the pandemic, the trade has been reacting to how brands supported them over the pandemic – we had our academy training and gave away 4,000 free cruises.
“Virgin Voyages was like a light in dark times, showing the benefits of being in the industry. We raised our commission to 16% and that will be here to stay. People remember how we supported them, they are coming to us in their droves.”
He said the cruise line’s sales team has now doubled to eight to help support the training of agents – known as First Mates.
“Since the end of furlough, there has been a real focus on reminding agents about the products again,” he said.
“We have a lot of experienced agent sellers but some have to learn again about the key selling points on our e-learning platform. First Mates will be a critical part of the wave period.”
He added: “There has been a bump with the new Covid variant but there is still an appetite to travel. And people are coming to terms with travel being not so smooth – they are prepared for the testing.
“Fares have not had to increase; we want to keep prices reasonable and we have had promotions in the market to encourage people.”
He said 2022 will be the “year of indulgence” as more people will take holidays of a lifetime, adding: “It is the year of Virgin Voyages.”
UK sailings during summer 2021 showcased Scarlet Lady to many first-time cruisers who are now booking for Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises next summer.
Valiant Lady will be the second ship to launch, and will offer opportunities for the trade to visit while it is homeporting in Portsmouth from March to May.
“It is a unique window of opportunity to show off Valiant Lady to the trade and media; we have exciting plans,” he said.
Valiant Lady will offer Mediterranean itineraries, and third vessel Resilient Lady will run Greek island sailings next summer.
The cruise line will also open its own terminal in Miami next year, overlooking the city’s downtown area.
“There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the trade in 2022 with two ships launching in six months,” said Lewis-Riley. “2022 will put us on the map. We are very positive for 2022.”