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Virgin's Richard Branson Jumping into the Hotel Business; The Virgin Hotels Brand
to be Lead by Anthony Marino, Raul Leal and Paul Whetsell

September 2010

Our next (ad)venture: Virgin Hotels

“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.” Sir Richard Branson
With over 25 years in the travel sector and a reputation for delivering unforgettable experiences to millions of Virgin fans, Virgin is a perfect fit for the hotel business. Virgin is a leader in design and hospitality and has transformed businesses ranging from airlines to fitness clubs to super luxury retreats and even space tourism. Our customers expect innovation and excellence and our new 4 star hotels will deliver exactly that.

The Virgin Advantage:

  • 25 years experience in travel
  • Experts in design and hospitality
  • Powerful consumer brand
  • Proven operator
Partnering with Virgin Hotels: opportunity and advantage

Virgin Hotels offers a unique opportunity for property owners and developers to partner with a leading global brand in a highly differentiated hotel proposition that taps into evolving trends in consumer tastes. Our aim to re-define the customer journey from pre-arrival to check-out is built on extensive customer research. Our valuable target audience includes the high income, well-educated, metropolitan “creative class.” We can leverage millions of Virgin flyers to significantly enhance marketing, sales and distribution, and millions of loyalty program members (Virgin America Elevate™ and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club™). In addition, having built large scale, highly profitable businesses, we bring proven operational expertise.

Virgin Hotels will be flexible in how we work with our partners. We can operate as a third party manager, partner with ownership, or acquire properties directly. To this end, Virgin Group has established a property venture with entrepreneur Alberto Beeck and hospitality and real estate investor Diego Lowenstein. The venture aims to acquire up to $500M in properties over the next three years.

Property Specs

Virgin Hotels seeks attractive property opportunities in North America’s most dynamic cities 

Capitalizing on the Virgin brand’s global appeal and cosmopolitan fan base, the initial cities on Virgin Hotels’ target list include major urban markets in North America (e.g. New York, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC). Our ambitions are global, but as a first move we are focusing on North America.

We are keen to discover a range of interesting, authentic and high quality 150–400 room properties in appealing neighborhoods that will meet the expectations of travelers in the “creative class” — a culture and mindset that represent the values of our target guests.

Once ready for business, Virgin Hotels properties will feature contemporary style AND great functionality, an efficient yet personalized experience, ample communal space and a signature restaurant. 

Virgin Hotels will define its communal spaces by building on experience the brand has gained in operating award-winning Clubhouses around the world — unique spaces where our guests can get work done, nourish and refresh themselves, meet other interesting people, or just take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Our target guest is more than comfortable with technology and craves customization and efficiency — so our properties will provide simple yet intuitive systems to help them get the most out of their stay (both in-room and throughout communal spaces).

What we’re looking for:

  • 4 star quality
  • Major North American cities
  • 150–400 rooms
  • Ample communal space
Key Players

Anthony Marino

Raul Leal

Paul Whetsell

Anthony Marino, Executive Director
Anthony leads Virgin Hotels and is responsible for strategic growth, brand experience, property selection, and overall business performance. Anthony joined Virgin Group in 2006 and directed the brand’s North American growth strategy, working on a range of industry sectors from financial services to leisure. He led the Virgin Hotels founding team, and serves as Managing Partner of Virgin Group’s leisure and hospitality sector. He has 15 years experience investing in and managing high-growth businesses. Most recently he spent six years investing in early-stage technology businesses at Venrock, the Rockefeller family’s venture capital organization.

Raul Leal, President & COO
Raul is responsible for Virgin Hotels’ operating systems and standards, property performance, and service culture. He is a career hotelier with a 25-year history of success in upscale hotel operations, development and design. He is credited with creating the operating infrastructure and thriving culture at Desires Hotels, a collection of 20 unique lifestyle hotels located in urban and resort destinations. Under his leadership the company established a reputation as a premier hotel management company, consistently achieving profitability and high levels of associate and guest satisfaction. In 2008, Desires Hotels was recognized as Best Management Company by Lodging Hospitality Magazine.

Paul Whetsell, Executive Director
Paul has more than 35 years experience in the hospitality industry and provides strategic guidance to Virgin Hotels in its operations and property acquisition activities. Paul founded the original CapStar Hotel Company in 1987. The company became the industry’s third largest REIT, owning over 110 hotels and $3 billion in assets. CapStar was also one of the industry’s largest operators, managing over 200 hotels. In May 2006, the business was sold to the Blackstone Group in one of the industry’s largest public to private transactions. Paul served as the Chairman and CEO of Interstate Hotels & Resorts until October 2003, and continued on as Chairman until 2009.

About Virgin

The Virgin Group: from mobile phones to spaceships

Virgin is a leading branded venture capital organization and one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands. Since it was conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group has created more than 300 branded companies worldwide, employing approximately 50,000 people in 30 countries, in business sectors ranging from mobile telephony to transportation, financial services, media, music, fitness, Formula 1 racing and even space tourism. We believe in making a difference. Virgin stands for value for money, quality, innovation, fun and a sense of competitive challenge. These core principles combine to create global branded revenues that in 2009 exceeded $18 billion.

The Virgin brand’s power
There’s no place for modesty here – Virgin is recognized and respected across the globe and has an estimated 60 million customers worldwide, with a new one added every 6 seconds. We have been voted the most admired brand in the UK, the best company to work for in the UK, the 4th best marketed brand in the world and, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, one of the world’s 25 most innovative companies. In short, we have an exceedingly powerful brand with which our customers are eager to engage. These customers are loyal and their high value perception of Virgin increases the power and effectiveness of our marketing across the board. Top tier press coverage of the Virgin brand equates to over $1.6 billion per year in media value.

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer in 1970 and shortly afterwards opened a record shop in London. In 1972 he built a studio where the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded Tubular Bells. He went on to sign the Sex Pistols and many other household names and to make Virgin Records one of the world’s top record companies. In 1999 Richard was knighted for “services to entrepreneurship.” He believes leadership and entrepreneurialism are essential to tackling some of the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. In 2006 Richard pledged 100% of profits of Virgin transportation companies to renewable fuels and resource efficiency businesses and research, and in 2010 he launched the Carbon War Room to mobilize capital, innovation, expertise and entrepreneurs to advance climate change efforts.


Virgin Hotels

Also See: Following Raul Leal's Departure, Desires Hotels Elevates Three to New Executive Positions / September 2010

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