British billionaire Richard Branson is launching a luxury cruise company Virgin Voyages, at a time when the sector faces headwinds from the coronavirus epidemic.

Virgin Group founder Branson was to unveil the group's new cruiseliner Scarlet Lady in Dover on the southeastern coast of England today.

"I have dreamed of starting my own cruise line since I was in my 20s and I'm thrilled that moment has arrived," said Branson.

The Genoa-built liner set sail from Italy earlier this month and will soon be travelling to resorts such as Costa Maya in Mexico, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Key West and The Bahamas.

The launch of Virgin Voyages comes amid turbulent times for the cruise industry owing to fallout from the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Branson's Virgin brand is used across numerous businesses - from trains, holidays, television, broadband, banking and his space tourism project Virgin Galactic.