Virgin Voyages, aiming for youth, draws the young at heart

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The mirrored hallway outside the Manor is the most photographed area on Virgin Voyages ships, according to the cruise line.
The mirrored hallway outside the Manor is the most photographed area on Virgin Voyages ships, according to the cruise line. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

ONBOARD THE VALIANT LADY -- If the masterminds behind Virgin Voyages thought their brand would mostly attract a millennial demographic, they were wrong. In fact, Virgin said the average guest is 48 to 49 years old, firmly in the Gen X camp.

Aided by its market position as a cruise line promising a "no kids" environment, Virgin is largely attracting parents and empty nesters between 40 and 60 years old, said several advisors on a sailing this month in the Caribbean during which Virgin recognized the line's 100 top-producing agents.

"It's a little confusing. I don't think that their target market is their actual market," said Rachelle Settle, of Wanderlove Travel in South Carolina, who said the line is attractive to an older clientele.

And Virgin is now tailoring its marketing to that demographic. In a modern remake of Virgin Records' 1980s hit "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club, the line's latest promotional video features couples, friends and singles largely north of the millennial demographic, including a baby boomer couple who gets engaged in a swimming pool. Shorter ad spots will be airing on TV soon, likely around awards broadcasts like the Oscars and the Grammys, according to Virgin.

The greater Virgin brand tends to present itself as aiming at a millennial audience, said Isis Ruiz, the line's chief growth officer, but its cruise audience was always larger than that.

"One of the key questions we get a lot is, 'Is Virgin a cruise for me?' And our answer to that is, 'Yes, it's a cruise for anyone,'" she said. "It's for the young at heart, is how we think about it."

An acrobat performs between segments of Virgin's "Miss Behave" game show.
An acrobat performs between segments of Virgin's "Miss Behave" game show. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

Virgin Voyages vice president of North American sales John Diorio said the line's target market is "anyone going on vacation without kids." While the average age of guests is 48 to 49, he said the target demographic is 34 to 62.

Top-producing agents said the "no kids" rule is a draw for their clients because it offers a chance to reset or reconnect with their spouse, especially once their kids have moved out of the house.

"It made me feel refreshed as a parent," said Valerie Scope, of Sea Our Style Travel based in Boynton Beach, Fla. She returned home from Virgin sailings with more patience for her teenager, she said, and says so to clients. "Just that little time gets you back to being a better person."

Agents said Virgin also attracts honeymooners and millennials who want to cruise, but not with older people, although some agents said their biggest Virgin clients are in their 70s and 80s.

"You have to be young at heart at this brand," said Adi Fogel, of R T Travel of America in Miami, who booked a couple in their 80s on Virgin four times last year and flashed me a picture on his phone of another client in his 60s getting a tattoo at the ship's tattoo parlor. 

Ideal Virgin clients like to be around younger people, are open-minded, appreciate new experiences and aren't stuck in their ways, he said. 

Adrienne Bibb, of Addy and Terry Travel in Atlanta, sells a lot of Virgin, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. She said Virgin is attracting more clients from those mass market lines.

She said Virgin is "niche" because it embraces diversity, different nationalities and LGBTQ, such as with the inclusion of drag shows and diverse entertainers.

"We tell people it's the most accepting community," Bibb said. 

CORRECTION: Adi Fogel is with R T Travel of America in Miami. The original report said he was with Adi Travel of America.

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