By James Wilkinson at the BLLA Leadership Symposium in Los Angeles
Virgin Hotels is set to see consistent growth in new properties over the next few years, with the company’s CEO, Raul Leal, telling BLLA Boutique and Lifestyle Leadership Symposium delegates that now the brand proposition was right, the company could expand appropriately.
“We should see 2-3 hotels per year from now on,” Leal said, adding growth now was not restricted to the United States, Canada and Mexico, but globally.
“Hopefully London will be our first hotel in Europe.”
Virgin Hotels was launched by Sir Richard Branson in 2011 and the first hotel opened in Chicago to much fanfare – in true Virgin style – in January 2015.
In the interview at the BLLA Symposium, Leal recalled a conversation with Branson eight months after the company was formed in 2011 whereby the entrepreneur asked how the first hotel was coming along.
“I told Richard we were trying to build something that’s special and has a point of view… and the first hotel had to be right,” Leal said. “And he said ‘take your time and if the board has any issues with that, let me know’”.
Leal said he’s confident the brand launched the right way in Chicago and the brand’s premise is right on the mark.
“It was really important to open the first hotel so people know what our point of view was,” he said.
And that is firmly a consistent lifestyle brand and one that will see a flagship restaurant and bar called The Commons Club rolled-out in each hotel as well as design on a high level, according to Leal.
“We are not doing a collection of boutique hotels,” he said.
Leal said a guests’ stay “has to be authentic” and that comes down to the offering in the hotels – from enthusiastic staff to free WiFi, early check-in and check-out with no extra cost and street pricing in mini bars “we shouldn’t be more expensive than 7 Eleven next door”, he says – and also doing property deals with the right developers.
“We have to make sure we select the right partners,” Leal said, adding the company has turned down a significant number of projects over the past two years “because they weren’t the right fit”.
Virgin Hotels’ pipeline includes projects in New York, Dallas, Palm Springs, Silicon Valley and Nashville.
Just a few weeks ago, the company announced the Silicon Valley property, which is set to open in 2019.
“As we grow the Virgin Hotels brand, the way we continue to expand our footprint in key destinations that align with our brand values is incredibly exciting,” Leal said.
“Our move into Silicon Valley is the perfect example of this, given our dedication to thoughtful technology within our guest experience.”
The Palm Springs property is also expected to open in 2019 and the two properties will importantly give the brand presence on the United States west coast.
“Opening a property in California has been on our wish-list since day one, and as Palm Springs has grown beyond its reputation of a retreat for Californians, we knew it was the perfect location for a Virgin Hotel,” Leal said.
The next property to swing open its doors will be in Dallas, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.
“We couldn’t have found a more perfect city than Dallas and a more perfect neighborhood than the Design District to continue our expansion of Virgin Hotels across America,” Leal said.
“We’re so excited to welcome guests and locals alike to experience all that our brand has to offer – from elevated cuisine and cocktails to comfortable and spacious Chambers for work, sleep and play.”
According to Virgin Hotels, the company has ambitions to be in 10 European cities, 7 in Central and South America, alongside 26 locations in Canada, the US and Mexico. Asia-Pacific has yet to be flagged for expansion by the company.