Boarding Richard Branson’s new cruise liner, Valiant Lady, leaders and other guests from around the territory mingled and laughed on Sunday, eager to sample the experience of an adults-only cruise.
Before being treated to lunch, the many guests, including Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Governor John Rankin, Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton, Deputy Premier Lorna Smith and Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer joined Sir Richard on the main deck, where the billionaire and Virgin Islands belonger delivered a speech.
“The only people who don’t love it very much are my grandkids, who set up a petition because it’s for adults only,” he said. “They brought the whole school to my house when I was staying in the [United Kingdom], and they petitioned the house with, you know, ‘Papa, we love you, but why can’t kids come on the cruise ship?’”
There are many cruise ships that cater to families, he explained, but few are reserved for ages 18 and up.
“The team have managed to win every award that you can imagine, including best cruise line,” he said. “And we needed to, because we launched this cruise line the week Covid broke out.”
The ships spent the next 18 months in their Italian shipyard, he added.
Sir Richard Branson uncorks a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the Valiant Lady’s arrival in the Virgin Islands. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
At lunch, Sir Richard fielded a few questions from reporters.
Asked what should be considered for the territory’s tourism strategy, he recommended increasing ease of access.
“Obviously the direct flights with American have helped and will help,” he said. “You ideally need New York to be added as well.”
Asked if there should be a limit to the number of visitors the VI allows at a given time, he suggested prioritising high-end tourism.
“I think upmarket tourism is what the BVI is famous for, and they’re the people that will spend a bit more on things than [others],” said Sir Richard, who also owns Necker and Mosquito islands, which are among the highest-end resorts in the territory.
“The BVI is a bit more expensive than other countries. So I think to still push for the up-market tourism to come to the BVI I think makes the most sense. … We’re never going to have a runway which is long enough to fly people in from Europe. So I think to carry on specialising in upmarket tourism, but make sure you welcome them with open arms.”
Jr. Ambassador for Tourism of the Virgin Islands Naomi Onwufuju posing on the cargo net lounge area on the main deck of Sir Richard Branson’s Valiant Lady cruise ship. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
Sporting a sash emblazoned with her title, Junior Ambassador of Tourism Naomi Onwufuju also answered questions about the tourism industry.
“While there can be too many people, the problem really is too many people in one area,” Ms. Onwufuju said. “A lot of people may go one place — say, Cane Garden Bay Beach — while not exploring [other] just as beautiful places which may have more cultural history.”
She also noted the importance of VI cultural history and suggested it be marketed at the forefront of the tourism industry.
“We have a very beautiful place, but there are a lot of beautiful places across the world,” Ms. Onwufuju said. “We need to focus on what makes us unique: our culture, our history. We need to market those more towards the tourists.”
Virgin Voyages may not allow passengers younger than 18, but some of the sections of the Valiant Lady, docked in Road Town on Sunday, cater to adults’ inner child like this arcade. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
The Virgin Voyages vessels are known as the “Lady Ships,” honouring Virgin’s “British heritage,” according to the company’s fact sheet.
The second to launch on May 15, 2022, Valiant Lady normally sails for seven days at a time throughout the Mediterranean out of Barcelona.
She can hold 2,770 passengers together with 1,160 crew.
All the ship’s restaurants, “essential drinks,” and group fitness classes are included in the fare.
Finally, all the crew are allowed to sport visible tattoos, which the fact sheet describes as “a unique move for the hospitality industry.”
After leaving Road Town on Sunday, Valiant Lady sailed between Necker and Prickly Pear islands, shooting off fireworks in celebration.