Virgin Voyages broke new ground when it came to the retail spaces onboard its Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady cruise ships, offering more than 50 first-at-sea, high-end-brand shops operated by Harding, a cruise retail specialist.
But now the two companies are parting ways, and going forward, Virgin with work with Starboard Cruise Services, an LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton company.
Harding’s Withdrawal to Begin in April
Harding, the global cruise retail specialist that operates 300-plus retail shops on more than 100 cruise ships, said its partnership with Virgin Voyages will come to an end this year, with the withdrawal of its retail services starting in April.
The company has provided retail services to Virgin Voyages since its first ship, Scarlet Lady, debuted in 2021. It also operates the retail spaces on Virgin’s second ship, Valiant Lady, which entered service in March 2022.
The retail spaces aboard Virgin ships are sprawled across some 6,000 square feet and feature innovative products like limited-edition vinyl records and luxury items from top brands such as Bulgari, Chanel and Vivienne Westwood. All told, Harding said it sells about 100 brand items on the two Virgin ships.
Harding CEO James Prescott said, “We have had great fun leading the cruise retail proposition and working as two innovative companies with shared values for six years. But sometimes we need to part as friends and make some tough choices together around what’s right for business and commercial models.”
He added, “We wish everyone at Virgin Voyages the very best, and will be working hard to redeploy the Harding+ team members who have been part of the Virgin ship teams elsewhere into our community.”
Virgin Voyages said the cruise line and Starboard will collectively curate the portfolio of brands, and custom-designed collections guests will discover on Virgin’s ships.
Virgin Voyages Associated Vice President of Hotel Partnerships Sally Barford said, ”For more than six years, we’ve enjoyed an incredible partnership with Harding and their team, but we’ve mutually decided that it’s time for both brands to explore what’s next.”
New Opportunities for Harding
In recent years Harding has expanded its cruise line contacts and found new business. In 2020 it signed contract extensions to 2027 with P&O Cruises and Cunard.
In 2021 Princess Cruises decided to out-source its retail operations and partnered with Harding to handle retail across its fleet as cruises ramped up following the pandemic suspension.
Prescott noted, “We have 13 new ships launching with Harding as their retail partner and have many more opportunities for onboard teams, so we feel extremely positive those new roles will be found as our business continues to grow at pace and we continue to innovate in all aspects of cruise retail operations. We of course remain focused on achieving our business plan.”
Virgin, meanwhile, has two more ships scheduled to enter service this year. Resilient Lady was scheduled to debut in Athens in August 2022 but was delayed due to supply chain issues and crew shortages. The ship is slated to begin sailing in May 2023. Brilliant Lady is expected to enter service in late 2023.