Richard Branson's brash push into the hotel market could include a property in Australia, with Sydney and Melbourne being the likely candidates for what Virgin Hotels promises will be "4 ½-star accommodations at 4 star prices".
A report in The Australian quotes Virgin Hotels' global chief executive Stephen Murphy as saying the company has conducted preliminary work in the Australia market as part of its plan to open as many as 25 hotels within a decade, beginning with a three-year aqcuisition fund of over US$500 million.
In Virgin Hotels' sights are properties of "interesting, authentic and high quality" design with between 150 and 400 rooms. They're also aiming to provide "unique communal spaces" where business travellers can work and also network with other businesspeople. If that sounds rather like an airport lounge, that’s probably deliberate.
Branson intends to rope Virgin flyers and Velocity Rewards members into the hotels, and it's no accident that the six cities where Virgin Hotels wants to launch in the US – New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington DC – are also key destinations for Virgin America. What could be a better fit than going from your funky Virgin Clubhouse to boarding a Virgin flight and at the other end being shuttled to a Virgin Hotel?
On the Virgin Hotels website Branson promises to "re-define the customer journey from pre-arrival to check-out".
"Our customers expect innovation and excellence and our new four-star hotels will deliver exactly that. 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."
“In the United States, when you survey consumers, they are very tired of the existing formula offers and I also think that is true (in Australia)” says Stephen Murphy. “(Travellers) are also slightly disillusioned with the boutique offers that miss the functionality that you need in a hotel."
“We think there is a great space for us to come in and, under the Virgin brand, deliver a boutique experience but with the basic functionality of the hotel delivered much more efficiently, and with the pricing transparency as well. If we can get the right sites, we have the concept for an upmarket, fun boutique hotel group that will be very Virginesque.”