Virgin Voyages has revealed ambitions for Scarlet Lady to become the first “carbon-neutral” cruise ship at sea by offsetting direct emissions.
Speaking during a press conference onboard Scarlet Lady in Dover, president and chief executive Tom McAlpin said: “We will be the first ship to be carbon neutral, and we want to make that change now, not in five years.”
Speaking to TTG later on, McAlpin said the line was particularly aware of its environmental footprint and had thought long and hard about ways to lessen its impact.
“Our brand purpose is to create an epic sea change for us, our partners, our crew. We can’t wait to be carbon neutral down the road – we need to do it now,” he said.
“The reality of any business is that you have a carbon footprint. And we are a ship, and we need things like fuel, but we said ‘how do we reduce the amount of energy we use for the design of the ship?’
“And that in itself has paid off – the ship is now one knot faster than we designed her for. That might not sound like a lot but that makes a big difference.
“We also have LED lighting throughout, he added. “And when you leave your cabins the curtain shuts automatically and the air con goes off.
McAlpin acknowledged there were challenges about the effectiveness of carbon offsets, but he said the company was “trying to do the right thing”.
He added the carbon offset programmes had been thoroughly researched and that the line was keen to use those that benefit the destinations its ship will sail to.
“So we’re looking at wind farms in the Dominican Republic, for instance,” he revealed.
Questioned as to why Virgin Voyages’ new ship doesn’t use LNG – currently thought to be one of the cleanest fuels for cruise lines – McAlpin said the fact it isn’t yet readily available prevented it from being an option. And he said the next three Virgin Voyages ships on order would all be identical and therefore also not able to run on LNG.
“If 100% of our fleet is reliant on LNG, it would significantly limit us in the ports that we visit. It’s different if you have a large fleet of ships – you can afford to have one or two sailing on LNG, but all of our ships have the same design and 20% of the cost of a ship is in its engineering, so we needed to keep the same design.”
Elsewhere, McAlpin suggested the UK could yet be a homeport destination for a future Virgin Voyages ship – although it’s unlikely to be in the immediate future.
“The beauty of this is the world is our playground. We can figure out where there is demand.
“The bigger market is the US,” he said, adding the line anticipates “around 70%” of its Scarlet Lady passengers will be from the US. The remaining 30% will comprise the UK, Canada and Australian markets.
However, McAlpin said: “We know the UK has an important affinity with the Virgin brand – awareness is greater here.”
“I think there’s an opportunity here for us. We’re not going to do it [base a ship in the UK] for the first or second ship but it’s definitely one of the destinations in the playbook of options. It’s a consideration,” he added.
Meanwhile, McAlpin insisted sales were going well for Virgin Voyages, despite its high price point (Miami round-trip three-night sailings on Scarlet Lady for March are currently priced from £760pp for an inside cabin).
“The price is holding up well. People are not complaining about that, which is good. We are a high price point,” McAlpin conceded, “but look at what you get – Wi-Fi, gratuities, basic drinks packages [tea, coffee and soft drinks are included, although alcohol is extra].
“Sales are good, but they’ll be better when we have more awareness,” he added, as he stressed just how much the line values its agent partners.
“We know people want to see it, touch it, feel it and that’s why we wanted to welcome so many agents onboard here,” he said, adding that “between 800 and 1,000 UK agents” visited Scarlet Lady in Dover on Saturday.
A further 1,000 agents are expected onboard in Liverpool when the ship arrives there later this week, where Richard Branson is also set to make an appearance.