Cruise Industry News is reporting that, according to from rumors they are hearing, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is attempting to secure $1.7 billion in funding from various banks. If successful, he intends to launch Virgin Cruises. They will build two ships with the funds. With no official brand launched yet and details are scarce at this point.
According to Tradewinds, they are apparently very close to securing all the required funds with heavy participation from the Persian Gulf region [think Dubai and Abu Dhabi]. Rumors persist that they are also in discussions with Fincantieri or Meyer Werft to build the ships. Deliveries would then take place in 2017 at the extreme earliest, and more realistically in 2018.
At $1.7 billion that works out to around $850 million per ship. Now a chunck of those funds will be used in the R&D phase and general start-up costs. An $800 million ship would fit the size between the 146,600gt Norwegian Getaway and the 167,800gt Quantum of the Seas. Thats a pretty big ship for a venture that’s a pure startup.*
The cruise industry is a very difficult industry to break into since its a very mature market. A lot of the smaller lines have either been bought or gone bankrupt. The major players for the mass market are all of four companies. And remember, Virgin Cruises will not be competing with just the 4 lines, they also have to battle land based and resort vacations, all within the leisure travel market.
I really can’t help but keep getting flashbacks of Easy Cruise which set out to do the exact same thing. Virgin’s goal, as has always been the M.O. of Richard Branson, is to shake up stagnant industries and offer something that the others wont. That seems quite similar to NCL’s M.O. It’ll be interesting to see just what Virgin Cruises does to differentiate themselves. Although if they want to shake up and truly differentiate themselves to succeed, a post-panamax newbuild would be the ideal way to do it.
*Pure Startup being a line that didn’t originally start with older tonnage. That would allow them to build up a brand and gain name recognition on the cheap then order newbuilds from there [i.e. MSC Cruises].