Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire British serial entrepreneur, is drawing up plans for a secret assault on the international cruises sector which will involve raising hundreds of millions of pounds in funding from external investors, Sky News reports on its website.
"Sky News can reveal that Virgin Group has appointed the US-based corporate advisory firm Allen & Co to oversee the development of a cruise operation that would eventually aim to compete with industry giants including Carnival Corporation," the satellite broadcaster said on its news website.
"The development of Virgin Cruises, which is expected to be the name of the new venture, is at an early stage, people close to the project cautioned on Friday. However, Virgin executives and their advisers have already held detailed talks with banks about raising an estimated $1bn (£598m) of debt to finance the acquisition of the company's first vessels," the report said, adding that they also want to raise in the region of $700m (£418m) of equity by selling stakes in Virgin Cruises to outside investors.
Sir Richard and Josh Bayliss, chief executive of Virgin Management, are understood to believe the global cruises sector possesses many of the same characteristics which have led Virgin to build a significant presence in sectors such as aviation, rail and mobile telecoms.
The cruise market is dominated by three listed majors, Carnival Corporation & plc, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and Norwegian Cruise Line. Between them, the three companies have a global market share of close to 80%.
Sir Richard is involved in a number of businesses that include aviation, telecoms, railways and financial services.
By Kari Reinikainen, Cruise Business Review
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