To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed by Sir Richard Branson’s keynote address yesterday at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in San Diego. There was no grand arrival by helicopter, no skydiving from the rafters. The most exciting thing (for the men in the room) was the bevy of flight attendants from Virgin America assisting Branson to the stage because of a knee injury.
There was a Q&A format rather than a speech with the famously edgy entrepreneur, but the interviewer, a local news anchor, fell short—misjudging the audience and jumping from topic to topic without much logical order.
Sir Richard Branson
But all was not lost. Here’s the information I did gain from the experience:
- Virgin Hotels, which was launched officially at The Lodging Conference in September, won’t see its first hotel for another two years.
- Major markets seem to be the focus. San Diego and Washington, D.C., were confirmed to be possibilities, but this was already disclosed on the Virgin Hotels website. Branson also said, "One of our first hotels will be in New Mexico, in the mountains overlooking the (Virgin Galactic) Spaceport."
- “Boring” is an experience Branson hopes to avoid with the hotel project. He also hopes to eliminate frustration over things such as rigid meal times. A guest should be able to get breakfast at 6 a.m. even if breakfast service doesn’t start until 6:30 a.m., he said.
- Each hotel will be different. “I don’t want to just put a Virgin stamp on the hotels,” Branson said.
- Virgin’s global awareness is an advantage going into the hotel game, Branson said. “We’ve got a captive audience.” The goal is not to be the best, but to be the “funnest” hotel to go to and make a return for shareholders.
- Even if they fall flat on their faces with this one, Branson said, they’ll just move on to something else.
- Branson closed the session by saying that he was looking forward to becoming friendly rivals with the folks in the room. Who knows? They might be working for him someday.