|By Rene Romo, Albuquerque Journal,
N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 20, 2011--LAS CRUCES -- Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson recently said his new venture, Virgin Hotels, is two years away from opening the doors to upscale properties, which will be located mainly in urban areas.
But Virgin Galactic, which is seeking to pioneer suborbital space tourism from Spaceport America in southern Sierra County, could announce, in three or four months, plans for a grand hotel catering to its highflying customers, said Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough.
Attenborough said the development of a hotel resort oriented to its clients, who are paying Virgin Galactic $200,000 each for a two-hour ride to the edge of space, is "something that we will support, but not something we will be doing ourselves."
Attenborough said Virgin Galactic has been talking to a number of potential partners "to support the development of something in the right place and at the right standards," but he declined to name any specific companies or say how many companies Virgin Galactic has held talks with.
"It will need to be in the next three to four months," Attenborough said of the decision on the hotel project. "It's something we are working on, and we are relatively close to being able to get something done, but it's probably in the three months time frame."
The New Mexico Spaceport Authority is overseeing the construction of the statefinanced terminal and runway from which Virgin Galactic could begin suborbital flights next year. The $209 million spaceport is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
A spokeswoman for a worldclass chain of boutique hotels, Aman Resorts, said the company is not pursuing development of a spaceport-oriented hotel in Sierra County. Two sources, who asked not to be identified, said that in late 2010 the chairman and CEO of Aman Resorts, Adrian Zecha, personally visited the area around the spaceport to scout a possible site for a new exclusive resort.
Anjali Nihalchand, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Aman Resorts, wrote in an email: "We are not involved in this project. We were approached, but as we have quite a few projects this is not something we could take on."
Virgin Galactic's customers, as well as friends and family members who may want to accompany the civilian astronauts to New Mexico to participate in the adventure, will need accommodations, close to the spaceport, that do not currently exist in Sierra County, Attenborough said.
"With the spaceport being such a fabulous building, and designed to provide such a fabulous experience, we think it is probably right to have a purpose-built resort," Attenborough said.
Later, Attenborough added: "We are starting off with a $200,000 ticket price. ... We need a resort, a hotel, that acknowledges that people have spent, relatively speaking, a lot on this trip."
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