THEY are keeping the details under wraps, but the Daily Echo can report that Virgin Holidays Cruises see Southampton as a major target for expansion in 2010.
The cruise holiday arm of the huge Virgin group saw itself become a major player in the cruise market in 2009.
But while a lot of its expansion so far has been in cruise breaks from the fly and cruise market, particularly in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, the company is now looking to beef up its offering from Southampton.
The move recognises the growing strength of the port as an embarkation point for cruise holiday customers in the UK. But so far Virgin are keeping very close to their chests their planned initiatives to take advantage of the estimated one million plus cruise customers who will use the port in 2010.
“Let’s just say that it will be very Virgin,” said Leslie Peden, managing director of Virgin Holidays Cruises.
“I can’t say much more than that other than we recognise how important the cruise market from the UK is and the part that Southampton plays in that. We are certainly looking to providing extra value for customers looking to travel from Southampton.”
Peden was speaking following the bringing into service of the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, a development he sees as underpinning the phenomenal success of the cruise industry over the last few years.
Oasis, he said, was the epitome of ensuring the cruise ship was seen not just as a form of transport but a true resort, a destination in itself.
“She’s innovative, striking, and imaginative in so many ways. The way in which the guests flow around the ship, such additions as Central Park and so many of the new attractions and features make this such a marvelous destination in itself,” he told the Daily Echo.
“There has been a lot of work in the industry over the past few years to explain to the UK customer what a value for money holiday taking a cruise is and this is certainly paying off.
“A lot of those now taking a cruise holiday, especially through Virgin, are new to cruising and this means we are getting through to them that even when times are tight money-wise then a cruise break is good value.”
Pointing out that the British cruise market now tops 1.5m holiday makers a year, Peden was quick to add that this amounted still to just a small fraction of the overall UK holiday market.
“It’s forecast that the cruise market in the UK will grow to something like 6.5 per cent of the overall travel market, but even that is still quite small. There is a whole new audience out there for us to reach.
Peden puts the success of Virgin Holidays Cruises in becoming a large player in this emerging market down to what he described as ‘Virgin Magic.’ “The Virgin experience starts from the moment they phone us and then from our knowledge of cruises, hotels in resorts – some exclusive to Virgin and some we have a long-standing history of working with.
Then there’s such attention to detail as our cruise concierge service where we contact customers four to six weeks beforehand, calling to see if they need any assistance, from what to pack to organise any excursions when they arrive.
“It’s everything to make the customers feel valued,” added Peden, who explained that it was vital that with every new to cruise client the right product was found for them.
“Putting the right customer with the right sort of cruise for the first time is vital if they are to enjoy the experience,” he added. To that end Virgin have worked hard on packaging cruise holidays for such customer groups as families, with such added value as theme park attraction tickets, and for couples.
The new year will also see the launch of Virgin Holidays Cruises’ bid to target the upper end of the market with their Platinum Collection – affordable luxury cruise and stay products offering value for money six-star holidays featuring such lines as Silverseas and Regent coupled with Virgin’s own Hip Hotels through Virgin Holidays.
Virgin Holiday Cruises can be viewed at virginholidayscruises.co.uk.