Jaded by the heady days of 2006, 2007 and 2008 when it seemed like there was a new brand launch every day, it became easy to dismiss the latest “next big thing” to be paraded out at an investment conference. But man, oh man, the times have changed.
It’s good to hear of the coming out party for Virgin Hotels during the Lodging Conference (which sadly I am missing this year because of an uncooperative gall bladder). This isn’t just another brand. It’s got an iconic name led by an iconic master marketer in Richard Branson. Match that with the official announcement from the government this week that the recession actually ended last year and the steadily improving average daily rate increases, and it’s a positive sign that things are turning for the better.
What’s impressive about Virgin Hotels is the lineup of executives Branson has brought aboard.
• Read “Virgin Group enters the hotel space.”
While I don’t know Anthony Marino, executive director, his resume working in the venture capital community is impressive. He provides the main link between Virgin Hotels and parent company Virgin Group.
Raul Leal is president and COO, and he is as good as it gets in the hotel industry. During his tenure at Desires Hotels, he and CEO Richard Millard reinvented service at upscale boutique hotels on South Beach. After the company branched out to other markets, such as New York and Milwaukee, it was only a matter of time before opportunity came knocking on Leal’s door. And unfortunately for the charismatic Millard, Leal couldn’t say no to an opportunity like this. I believe Millard is one of Leal's biggest boosters as he takes on the new gig.
Paul Whetsell, executive director, is one of those guys I listen to and wonder how one person can know so much about hotels. His expertise at owning, operating and acquiring hotels is hard to match. He brings a wealth of experience to the table for Virgin.
The company’s website says Virgin Hotels is a perfect fit for the hotel industry. It includes a quote from Branson: “I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their heads and making sure those industries would never be the same because Virgin took them on.” Knowing how much Branson has a flair for the dramatic and the spotlight, it’s going to be fun seeing Virgin’s approach to hotels.
Whether Virgin ends up as an upper-upscale or luxury chain remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: It’s good to see some action and talk of aggressive expansion in the hotel industry. It’s been a long two years spent watching revenue per available room go dry.
Asked by HotelNewsNow.com’s Patrick Mayock what it means that Virgin is being launched during this kind of economy, Marino said: “From our perspective, it shows some optimism about the long term. It shows, at least from Virgin’s perspective, that we see a consumer need that’s significant. Virgin focuses on industries in which we can make a difference to consumers.”
It’s that kind of bravado a beaten-down industry needs at this point. Just as things are getting better, a new brand with lots of marketing muscle infuses more life into the party. That’s good for everyone.