Creating beautiful and sustainable experiences

Juan Trescastro explains what Virgin Voyages considers when developing its itineraries

Creating beautiful and sustainable experiences
Scarlet Lady will sail itineraries from Miami, Florida, to destinations such as Mexico, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic

By Richard Humphreys |

Whenever Virgin Voyages plans an itinerary, it starts by performing extensive studies to understand which regions are most desirable to its guests. “These studies drive our internal conversations and create a point of reference,” says Juan Trescastro, the brand’s senior director of itineraries, destinations and government relations. “After this extensive research process is mapped out, we work towards selecting a homeport as the base of operations.”

For this task, Virgin Voyages considers many factors, including how accessible it is for sailors (Virgin Voyages’ term for guests). “We put the rest of the puzzle together based on timing, speed, distance and destinations that are appealing and available,” says Trescastro, who lists the following destinations as his highlights: Alaska, the Baltics, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Oman, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

“There are some very special places on this great Earth that are wonderful and choosing one [cruise itinerary] is almost impossible,” says Trescastro. “However, there are a few places that come to mind as holding a special place for me. A trip from Venice to Syracuse in Italy offers great historical architecture, wonderful people that bring the country to life, majestic outdoor beauty and of course, the best food in the world! Italy offers something for everyone, no matter one’s age or interest, this country delivers a truly beautiful experience.

“Two more special destinations are Australia and New Zealand. The land is truly the outdoorsman’s paradise. The great people who love where they are from, make it a wonderful experience.”

While beautiful scenery, food and people help to make a guest’s experience memorable, revenue is a key factor when creating a cruise itinerary. A marquee port can be crucial for such a reason but might not always be necessary.

“Each port has its weight, and a major contributing factor is the perceived benefit based on its name recognition and desirability,” says Trescastro. “We strive to find locations that are less travelled and lesser-known but have a cachet or prominence with our target demographic. Since our target demographic includes well-travelled and adventurous sailors, the lesser-known destinations can be, and are, attractive, but must deliver on the experience.”

Sustainability is another consideration at the forefront of Virgin Voyages’ itinerary planning process.

“When planning itineraries, we consider the distances between ports, ship speeds and the amount of fuel required,” says Trescastro. “We also consider the destination infrastructure in our decision-making such as the ability to support the handling of waste and recycling. In Bimini [in The Bahamas], we take the recycled waste back on the ship. We have a longer ambition to do composting, as well as advanced resource conservation and local sustainability initiatives where programmes do not exist.

“We also explore how partnerships with shore excursion providers can support the local economy, respect the local culture, protect the environment and offer unique experiences for our sailors. In all ports we look for smaller, local experiences.”

Driving demand for cruising to a country takes a collaborative effort, particularly from ports, governments and tourist boards.

“For a destination, it’s about working on a total offering for the cruise industry and working with other ports within an itinerary to have a complete package,” says Trescastro. “Advertising and offering cooperative marketing with the cruise lines to improve on name recognition or the special unique offerings of the destination are key. It’s important not to limit yourself to one cruise line, stay an open port and have a fair berthing policy that is clear.

“Looking at the overall costs to the lines and ensuring they are in line with other destinations in the region is also important. Involve the cruise industry in your long-term plans for infrastructure improvements and sustainability concerns, issues and programmes. Support the local business community so they can be part of the benefit that the cruise lines bring, local and authentic experiences are wanted and can be developed with support from the local government.”

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