Business magnate Sir Richard Branson has said he does not expect his new luxury cruise line to be hit by any fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
The billionaire entrepreneur downplayed the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on the industry as Virgin Voyages launched in Dover with the unveiling of the Scarlet Lady – the first of a planned four-strong fleet.
The promotional event came as a coronavirus-hit cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, remained quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, with more than 630 infected passengers aboard, including four Britons.
An elderly Japanese couple who had been aboard the ship died after being taken ashore.
But Sir Richard pointed out Scarlet Lady would be based in the US and the Caribbean, meaning he did not expect it to be affected by the outbreak.
The 69-year-old said: “Obviously what happened in Japan was horrendously unfortunate.
“(But) I think the longer-term impact will be negligible.
“I think the fact that we’re going out of America means that I don’t think we’ll suffer. People are booking as much as they’ve ever booked right now.”
He worked with Tom McAlpin, chief executive of Virgin Voyages and an industry veteran who previously ran the Disney Cruise Line, to develop his latest venture.
Referring to the coronavirus outbreak, Mr McAlpin told Sky News’ Ian King Live programme: “The safety and health and security of our guests is paramount to us.”
Echoing Sir Richard’s comments, he said: “We are operating in America. It is not an issue.
“We have got our guard up. We are doing all the things to protect ourselves.
“This industry is very resilient. It’s not affecting it in North America.
“This is not something that’s going to hurt us in the long term.”
He also highlighted the steps taken to limit the environmental impact of the cruise business, including using Climeon, a technology that generates electricity from the heat of the ship’s engine and so reduced the demand for energy.
Other measures include carbon offsetting and banning single-use plastics.
Virgin Voyages says the ship features “dazzling contemporary design” and will “reinvigorate the cruise industry in the same way Virgin Atlantic did for aviation”.
It will target younger tourists with spas, a running track, sundeck yoga, a tattoo studio and vinyl records store.
Children are not allowed.
Built in Italy, Scarlet Lady will host 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crew.
She will sail to Liverpool and then to New York and Miami before her inaugural passenger voyage around the Caribbean in April.
Demand for cruising holidays has leapt over the past decade, with some 32 million passengers expected to set sail in 2020, a figure that has almost doubled since 2009.
The US is the biggest market for passengers, with the Caribbean and Mediterranean the most popular destinations for the leading cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.