Virgin Voyages CEO explains what makes Richard Branson's new adults-only cruise line stand out from the crowd

Virgin VoyagesVirgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin (Right) with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.
  • Virgin Voyages officially opened for business last week. Sir Richard Branson proudly announced that Virgin Group’s adults-only cruise line will set sail in April 2020.
  • Tom McAlpin is the cruise line’s president and CEO.
  • According to McAlpin Virgin Voyages will stand out for its unique take on luxury, gratuity free policy as well as its commitment to environmental protection.

Virgin Voyages officially opened for business last week. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson proudly announced his adults-only cruise line will set sail in April 2020.

Sir Richard may be the face of Virgin Voyages, but the company’s president and CEO is Tom McAlpin. And while Branson is a cruise industry neophyte, McAlpin, who helped found Disney Cruises and served as its president for half a decade, is not.

Now, McAlpin will be tasked with bringing Virgin Voyages, a joint venture with Bain Capital, online.

As will anything associated with Virgin, there’s always going to be a slight twist on the traditional formula. For McAlpin, the key ingredient is finding the right mixture of personalities.

“It’s a combination of having people who know the Virgin brand and that secret sauce and what makes it tick combined with people that have cruise industry experience,” he said in a recent interview with Business Insider.

Virgin cruise ship Scarlet LadyVirgin VoyagesScarlet Lady

According to the CEO, his company went out of its way to recruit those who could provide a balance between industry knowledge and out-of-the-box thinking.

“We want to take the creative thinkers in the industry so they are not too rigid but they know what they are doing,” McAlpin said. In addition, the cruise line also brought in folks from other industries with experience at companies like JetBlue and Uber.

Read more: Richard Branson reveals how his new adults-only cruise line, Virgin Voyages, will turn the cruise industry upside down.

Beyond the creative and management teams, McAlpin contends that Virgin Voyages will stand out from its contemporaries for the way the company treats its crew and customers. That begins with gratuities. Mainstream cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean charge guests a set daily gratuity. For Carnival, it starts at $US13.99 per day, per person. At Royal Caribbean, it starts at $US14.50 per day, per person. At Virgin, it’s $US0.

“Not requiring gratuities does two things, it creates a better experience for our sailors because they don’t have to worry about paying gratuities,” McAlpin said. “But also we are able to pay our crew salaries so they won’t have to worry about whether they are going to make enough money this month.”

Virgin Voyages Scarlet LadyVirgin VoyagesThe Scarlet Lady under construction in Italy.

McAlpin is also committed to creating a family-like and supportive culture at the company.

“We’re going to recruit the best, we’re going to invest in them with the best training,” he told us. “As Richard said before, you want to train them to be the best so that they could leave, but you want to take such good care of them that they never want to leave.”

The company is also committed to increasing the number of women in technical roles, which according to Virgin, accounts for only 3% of in the cruise industry. In fact, Branson recently recounted to reporters his unsuccessful attempt to recruit a female captain away from a rival cruise line.

As for Virgin Voyages’s on ship product, it will be a bit different from the status quo as well.

“We use this term ‘rebellious lux,'” he said. “We want you to be able to enjoy yourself as a billionaire would and that doesn’t mean marble as far as the eye can see. That doesn’t mean a stuffy dining room with a waiter serving you in a tux and white gloves and 14 glasses in front of you.”

“It’s getting stuff when you want it, where you want it, and doing it in a kind of rebellious way,” McAlpin added. “It’s ok to bend the rules a little bit but always quality.”

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady renderingVirgin Voyages

As with all things Branson touches, environmental protection and sustainability are ingrained in the company’s DNA.

“It’s a philosophy, it’s a culture you create around the environment,” McAlpin said.

The cruise line has banned all single-use plastic from its ships. The company hopes that by doing so it can limit the number of plastic water bottles, straws, stirrers, and individual serving packets that end up in the oceans.

“This is bold, this is costly, because companies make a lot of money selling water bottles, but we think this is the right thing to do,” McAlpin told reporters last week.

In addition, Virgin’s ship, the Scarlet Lady, is designed with an energy efficient hull and its propulsion system is equipped with a heat-energy recovery system to create clean energy. And then there are small energy saving features like kitchen grills, fans, and hoods that only turn on when needed.

Virgin Voyages is expected to make its maiden voyage in April 2020 from Miami to Havana, Cuba.

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