Last updated: 05:12 PM ET, Tue July 05 2016

Virgin Gives Birth To U.S. Hotels

The properties target tech-savvy guests looking for great service delivered in a cheeky style

Vacation Agent | Hotel & Resort | Mimi Kmet

Virgin Gives Birth To U.S. Hotels

Virgin Hotels, which celebrated the one-year birthday of its first property in Chicago in January, already has four more on the way in Nashville, Dallas, New York and Palm Springs – all of which are scheduled to come online by late 2018. Although that may seem like a lot of hotels opening in a short ti me span for a new company, they will debut aft er a lengthy gestation period.

“We’ve been talking about it for at least 15 years,” says Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels. “It was the next natural extension of the Virgin brand as a global travel business.”

 And there are more to come, as the company explores cities like Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for future development. Although London, Toronto and Vancouver also are on its radar, Virgin Hotels currently is focusing on U.S. locales, because of the Virgin brand’s “tremendous awareness in the U.S.,” says Allie Hope, head of acquisitions and development, referring to the launch of Virgin America in recent years.

 The company is capitalizing on Virgin America’s customer base, as well as that of Atlanti c and Virgin Australia. For example, it is extending special offers like complimentary suite upgrades and free cocktails at the Chicago property to Virgin America’s 9 million Virgin Elevate members (frequent fl yers).

“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of business through Virgin America,” Leal says. The property also uses digital marketi ng and works through local companies to solicit business yearround and with other Virgin companies to develop packages and perks, he adds. It’s the type of customer who uses its sister companies that Virgin Hotels is targeting – customers who “want to work and play at the same time,” he says. “They’re über impatient. They want great service, but they also want a hotel that’s very entrenched in the community. They’re very tech-savvy customers, and they are people who have a case of wanderlust.”

To that end, Leal adds that the hotels appeal to like-minded people who want to explore different options. “We don’t have just one demographic,” he says, noting that it’s more about what people want, not what age or gender they are.

For example, he recently visited the Commons Club, the social hub of Virgin Hotels Chicago, and saw “millennials drinking coffee while working on computers, families with children and a sophisticated couple at the bar having martinis.”

To drive that message home to agents, Virgin Hotels is hosting a large number of fam trips to the Chicago property. “We want to help agents understand what the hotel’s point of view is,” says Leal.

That point of view is evident in its service. “Virgin as a company has a tremendous track record of delivering great service in a cheeky way, with a sense of humor,” he says. “The hotel amenities really speak to today’s traveler in terms of technology and consumer experience.”

For example, he adds, “People work and play mostly attached to devices, so the bed is very ergonomic – you can work and play in bed.” In addition, an app called Lucy allows guests to order room service, request extra pillows, schedule spa appointments, control temperature and lighting, and stream movies, all from their smart phones. “It’s really an easy sell, once you see the hotel and experience it,” Leal says.

And cheeky? Virgin Hotels’ website touts Lucy by saying, “No need to get out of bed to adjust the heat or AC. Lucy’s got your sensitive parts covered.”

The company’s trademark humor also is evident in its marketing. For example, before the Chicago hotel opened, Virgin laid out red rugs in front of competing hotels in the city. And to promote the fact that it offers free WiFi, the company parked a van in front of a competing hotel and beamed free WiFi to all of that property’s guests.

Which brings up another way in which Virgin Hotels sets itself apart: “There’s a no-nickel-and-diming policy,” Leal says. Besides free WiFi, for example, the hotel charges street prices for its mini- bar items.

Guestrooms have amenities like large showers with benches. And each room has two chambers – the Dressing Room and the Sleeping Lounge – separated by sliding doors that allow deliveries to be made without the guest being seen.

Other commonalities are the Commons Club (every Virgin hotel will have one) and locations in creative, culturally significant urban areas.

Beyond that, the hotels’ designs and amenities will differ, depending on the location. TheNashville property, which will be located on Music Row, will have its own recording studio. The Palm Springs hotel will have an outdoor public event space that will offer guests free VIP seats to concerts, movies and cultural performances.

Food-and-beverage outlets, spa and fitness facilities, and meeting space also will differ. Virgin Hotels Chicago’s dining and drinking options (besides the Commons Club) include Miss Ricky’s (American diner), Cerise (rooftop bar and lounge) and Upstairs (speakeasy with live entertainment including music, comedy and burlesque).

While the Chicago property opened in a renovated 1926 Art Deco building, the four hotels that are currently under development are new-builds.

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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the June 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.