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Innovating today, Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels

It was through his Linkedin account that Richard Branson announced the opening, by 2020, of the first hotel in the Virgin chain in Europe: Edinburgh will be the first city to host one of the facilities of the eclectic tycoon - whose grandparents and current wife are among other things of Scottish origin - thus flanking those on American soil, all currently at a more or less advanced stage of construction.

In Victoria Street, in Edinburgh's historic centre, near the Royal Mile and the Castle, the brand's first hotel will be built, which once again proposes an innovative business model based on the ability to adapt to guests' needs: "Virgin Hotels was launched to bring about smart disruption in the hotel sector. For over 40 years, Virgin has challenged the status quo by creating products and services that have improved it considerably," said Branson, who added: "Virgin Hotels puts the traveller at the heart of design and service. I often travel and know what I want wherever I go in the world: free wifi, no cancellation fees, early check-in or late check-out without penalty. I want a comfortable bed, space to work in, a social area to relax in and a high standard of service. Virgin Hotels offers these things and much more - but I don't want to spoil the surprise completely.”

Virgin Hotels: a new hospitality formula

Virgin Hotels opened its first office in Chicago in 2015, relying on the Madrid-based multidisciplinary team of Rockwell Group Europe, led by Diego Gronda, known for twenty years in the industry for designing, for example, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai and the Nobu Hotel in Riad and for overseeing the renovation of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami.
The 26 floors of Chicago's Old Dearborn Bank, a 1920s Art Deco building, have been refurbished and transformed into 250 rooms plus some common areas, integrating its more classic features, such as brass lift doors, the bar's double-height coffered ceiling or marble floors, with Virgin's playful but extremely functional aesthetic. And it is the combination of design and functionality at the base of the Virgin Hotels concept, named Hotel n.1 in the United States by the Readers' Choice Awards of Conde Nast Traveller 2016: "It may not be the best room in the world, nor the most beautiful", said the project managers themselves, "but don't be in any doubt that it is the most comfortable".
A new formula of hospitality that goes beyond the traditional schemes of high level structures by adopting simple but effective solutions often suggested by the customers themselves: free wi-fi in all parts of the hotel, special attention to pets, as well as female users with a silver toilet table with a backlit magnifying mirror perfect for make-up. And more: alcohol in your room at very affordable prices (and especially no surprises), inside Smeg red mini fridge, iPad courtesy and the ability to control everything, including the temperature of your room, via apps.
For the opening of the hotel, in keeping with Branson's conviction that "nothing can succeed except through communication", Virgin launched the hashtag #virginrumors on Instagram, receiving the most absurd proposals from future customers, in exchange for the possibility, for the most amusing, to stay free in one of the rooms. Branson is committed to providing fun above all: among the benefits Virgin Hotels offers, to name but one, is the Lover's Intimacy Kit, a $20 box that includes two condoms, a lubricant and a vibrator for all eventualities.

Considering the daily presence of parties starting from tea time, concerts and events open to everyone organized on the panoramic terraces, the fact that the hotel's restaurant, the Commons, is also a club, the constant social updating of the number of customers and animals hosted and the live blog space, it is not surprising that, within Virgin hotels, the professional figure of the Director of Entertainment has made his appearance. Indeed, Virgin Chicago's "entertainment director" Blake Smith was promoted to the brand's first Executive Director of Entertainment last year. With over ten years of experience in production and recording, in Virgin and before that in Polygram, EMI, Island Def Jam and as a screenwriter at Universal, Smith has already over 500 concerts and musical events in the two halls of the Virgin Hotel alone, the Upstairs and Cerise.

Unusual friendly hospitality in such high-end facilities, at a cost that is not prohibitive (one room starts at $150), because, as Branson pointed out, "the idea behind the creation of this hotel was to make it as competitive as the Soho House, but without it being "elite" with high costs or excluding local residents". On the contrary, by encouraging a balance between work and personal leisure, so that a short business trip does not preclude a pleasant evening spent listening to live music while sipping a drink and chatting with other travellers or locals".

Apart from the suites that also have a living area, most of the rooms consists of only one bedroom and a bathroom, separated by a sliding door, which is also equipped, with the addition of peepholes, the local wardrobe.
Since, according to Virgin's research, business travellers spend much more time working on the hotel bed than on a desk, a team of designers has designed an extremely functional exclusive one, which becomes an armchair and has incorporated the dog's kennel (on the hotel's website, the owner himself shows its potential, sitting comfortably in a bathrobe).

The Virgin Hotel Chicago was just the first of what should become a chain in the next two years, with hotels in San Francisco, Nashville, Dallas, New York, New Orleans, Silicon Valley and Palm Springs, all designed to fit the specific landscape, taste and interests of each city (the Nashville facility, for example, should have its own recording studio). The next opening will soon be in San Francisco, in the South of Market district, a 196-room building, numerous meeting and dining spaces, a cafeteria, a roofbar and Virgin's top restaurant, the Commons.

The adventurous London tycoon, appointed Sir in 2000 for his services in business and whose family-owned venture capital group currently has interests in more than 400 companies, with Virgin trains, planes and spaceships - but who has chosen to concentrate on the management of Virgin Unite, the group's philanthropic arm - is certain to offer a completely new, personalized and "light" model of hospitality, far removed from the often stale and unfamiliar services of common high-end hotels.

And most of all, Branson is managing to export his formula outside of the United States as well: as he said to Inc, "One day we'll have a hotel in space, I guarantee you.

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