Richard Branson talks up ‘female-friendly’ boutique

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Richard Branson has revealed that his boutique hotel chain will seek to focus on appealing to the needs of female travellers as it bids to carve out a niche in the market.

This week marks the launch of its first property in Chicago, some five years after the entrepreneur announced plans to enter the hotel market with a string of properties.

Virgin originally announced plans to operate up to 25 hotels by 2017 but the project has been hit by delays and it is currently on track to reach just three by that date. In 2016 it will open a Virgin Hotel in Nashville, followed by a property in New York the year after.

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Last year, management at the firm also confirmed they were actively looking for opportunities in London, calling the UK capital a “huge priority”.

Speaking ahead of the Chicago launch this week, Branson explained that the company would be introducing a range of safety features and feminine facilities to attract female guests.

Rooms will have closing doors that divide the room in half, so guests can be separated from anyone delivering room service or bringing up luggage, while corridors will be well lit by strong lighting. Peepholes will allow guests to see who is outside.

On the convenience side, rooms will offer extra closet space, drawers for makeup and supplies, and even larger showers with a bench that makes it easier for guests to shave their legs.

“I don’t think any hotel caters to the female traveller,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Branson as saying. “It will give Virgin an edge to make sure we look after them.”

Branson’s views are not just founded on instinct. Virgin made it a focus to appeal to female business travellers after a study in the US revealed that the amount of female business travellers had doubled in the last 20 years.

Moreover, it discovered that female travellers had more multiple-night stays than men and were more likely to incorporate leisure time at the end of their business trip. Virgin subsequently held focus groups with frequent female travellers, which revealed safety and convenience were their two main preferences.

Branson is well aware that the boutique hotel market remains a highly competitive field and that new entrants need to stand out from the crowd. But he is confident that his Virgin Hotel brand will make its presence felt, even if the project has taken longer to come to fruition than he originally anticipated.

“There are still a lot of very crappy hotels out there,” he said. “The big chain hotels are completely impersonal. As long as we’re in the best 10% of the sector, we can do very well.”

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