Clia hosted 750 agents at its largest-ever annual conference in Portsmouth and Southampton. Harry Kemble reports

Branson hints at cruises in Mexico, Australia and Med

Sir Richard Branson revealed the destinations he would like Virgin Voyages to sail to during a surprise appearance at the Clia Conference.

The Virgin Group founder said Turks & Caicos Islands, Mexico, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Australia were potential destinations for Virgin Voyages itineraries.

Branson outlined his wishes for the line on stage alongside Virgin Voyages president and chief executive Tom McAlpin after dropping into the Q&A session midway through.

He said: “We are looking at a few different destinations – we like to surprise people and I hope that we do that.”

Referring to Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voayges’ first ship which is due to launch next year, Branson said: “We wanted to try and create a cruise ship that the millions of people who have never been on a cruise ship will go on, so we can expand the market.

“I am extremely excited and that is why I have flown 4,000 miles to come and talk to you about it.”

McAlpin confirmed Scarlet Lady will sail to the UK when it launches next spring. The line later confirmed it will call at Dover and Liverpool in February 2020.

McAlpin also added: “This is a really important market for us and our brand is really strong here.”

McAlpin said UK agents would be invited to see the ship but he did not reveal how many agents from this country had joined the line’s First Mates agent portal.

Branson told the audience he had someone in mind to be Scarlet Lady’s godmother but refused to reveal a name when quizzed on stage by Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley.

Asked whether he had considered entering the river cruise market, Branson said: “I am sure that Tom [McAlpin] will say stick with our onions, but it is a good idea.

“I had not thought about it. I love trying new things.”

Branson said he would be keen for a silent disco on Scarlet Lady, and reiterated that sun cream that does not harm coral reefs would be made available to Virgin cruise passengers.


Royal eager to gain ship to replace Independence in UK

Royal Caribbean International’s UK boss hopes to have a second ship sailing ex‑Southampton itineraries “very quickly” after Independence of the Seas’ 2020 UK season was cancelled.

Ben Bouldin (pictured above) said he had feared the 4,560-passenger ship would be repositioned when it became clear that the line was “a bit light” in the Caribbean, where its new private island Perfect Day at CocoCay is located.

Passengers’ “phenomenal” reaction to the $250 million private island, which opened earlier this month in the Bahamas, prompted the decision to cancel Independence of the Seas’ 2020 UK season.

The move means Quantum-class ship Anthem of the Seas will be the only Royal vessel deployed in the UK next summer.

Speaking at the Clia Conference, Bouldin said: “Clearly it was not a decision that we had planned a few months ago – otherwise we would not have put it on sale.

“Independence of the Seas was one of the first ships to go through the Amplified [revamp] programme.

“All the other [Amplified] ships are in the Caribbean, so when I knew that they needed another ship to go there, I feared what might happen.

“Independence of the Seas is an incredibly popular ship which sells incredibly well.

“It is our appetite to get back to two ships in the UK very quickly.”

Bouldin took part in an on-stage discussion with Iain Baillie, Carnival Cruise Line’s UK managing director, about cruising with families.

Baillie said: “There are around 30 million global cruise passengers now, with 110 new ships in the pipeline and 40 million [passengers a year] projected over the next eight years. A huge portion of that is multigenerational families. We have to ensure we’re evolving the brand.”

Baillie invited every delegate at the conference to see new ship Mardi Gras when it comes to the UK on September 9, 2020. The 5,200-passenger ship will feature a 240-metre rollercoaster.

Improve your product knowledge and you’ll sell more, Azamara’s Pimentel tells agents

Azamara Club Cruises’ Larry Pimentel has challenged agents to “plug in” to training programmes to boost sales through confidence.

The line’s chief executive and president told 600 agent delegates that customers wanted to hear from a confident seller.

He cited the example of Celebrity Cruises ship Celebrity Edge, which nearly 900 agents had sailed on earlier in the week.

“Experience Edge by cruising on her and your confidence goes up,” he said. “People want to hear from confident sellers. Plug in to training programmes – you’ll feel more confident with more knowledge.”

He added that research showed that agents who were not confident started talking about price. “If you win the customer with the lowest price, then that is how you will lose them too,” he said.

MSC signals plan to make Magnifica bigger and better

MSC Cruises has all but confirmed that MSC Magnifica will be lengthened and given British touches before it homeports in the UK.

Antonio Paradiso, the line’s managing director for the UK and Ireland, previously refused to reveal which MSC ship would go into dry dock and re-emerge as “a super-enhanced version” of itself for summer 2021.

The move had been mooted in November when the line signed a partnership with Chelsea FC. Speaking on MSC Preziosa, Paradiso said the unnamed ship would be “magnificent”.

The name of the line’s new luxury fleet, due to launch from 2023, would be revealed in the coming weeks, Paradiso said.


Brexit is just a bump in the road says Clia’s chairman

Clia’s chairman said 2019 was “tough and challenging” and that delaying Brexit had done little to improve consumer confidence.

Tony Roberts (pictured above) described Brexit as “a bump in the road” as he revealed cruise and holiday sales were not at the same level as last year.

“We cannot deny that there are some things going on that make the holiday market a bit more challenging than we have been used to in recent years,” he said.

“The holiday market and the cruise market are tracking behind last year.

“At times, it is a quite an irrational and emotional response [from consumers]. The delay to Brexit does not seem to have changed that.”

Roberts reminded Clia delegates that the UK cruise industry generated £3.2 billion in sales last year – 10% of the total holiday market.

‘More consumers are putting their wallets where their values are’

Companies with strong moral values appeal far more to today’s consumer than in the past, Celebrity Cruises’ boss said.

The luxury line named women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai as godmother of Celebrity Edge, a ship employing 37% females in guest-facing roles on board.

Speaking on Celebrity Edge, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity’s president and chief executive, said: “I believe that you can still do business, do good and be highly profitable.

“More consumers than ever before are putting their wallets where their values are.”