News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. Mar. 4, 2014: Could a cruise liner from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group be pulling up to a Caribbean port soon?
That’s the question some travel industry experts are asking as Sky News revealed that Virgin Group has appointed the US-based corporate advisory firm Allen & Co to oversee the development of a cruise operation that aims to compete with industry giants like Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Norwegian and Carnival.
The cruise market is dominated by these three giants who control a global market share of approximately 80. Caribbean nations are largely dependent on the stop-over arrival cruise ships bring to their port to boost the local economy on a weekly basis.
Overall nearly 22 million cruise passengers visited the Caribbean region in 2013 with Curaçao welcoming more than 45 per cent more than it did in 2012.
The industry is forecast by Cruise Market Watch to grow from 21.5 million passengers this year to 22.2 million passengers carried worldwide in 2015. Globally, the industry is likely to generate revenue of $37.1bn (£22.2bn) this year, a 2.3 percent increase on 2013.
Now it looks like the billionaire businessman and visionary wants in on the action. Branson has revealed he is planning to launch his own cruise line by 2019.
In an interview with Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National, Sir Richard said he would start the $1.7 billion project with two new-build ships, operating in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean initially. The line would be based in Miami.
Branson told the newspaper: “When I was in my 20s I thought about a cruise ship for the under 20s, when I was 30 I thought about one for under 30s.”
The company, according to Sky News, is working on the development of Virgin Cruises which is expected to be headquartered in the U.S. Virgin executives and their advisers have reportedly already met with investment banksabout raising an estimated $1bn (£598m) of debt to finance the acquisition of the company’s first vessels.
Executives also reportedly want to raise in the region of $700m (£418m) of equity by selling stakes in Virgin Cruises to outside investors.
The ships would be aimed at a younger market, offering more entertainment and leisure, a spokeswoman for the Virgin Group said. “We believe we can supply the Virgin ‘touch’ on cabins, leisure and dining facilities,” she added.