First thought - why on earth hasn't Branson done this before? The Virgin founder's done airlines, gyms, even luxury retreats. It's definitely time he dipped his toe into the hotel sector.
This is just early days for Virgin Hotels. Branson has put out a call to action for property owners and developers to partner with the new venture. The business model is threefold: Virgin Hotels will operate as a third party manager, partner with existing owners, or acquire properties outright. First stop: North America. The initial target locations for hotel developments are New York, San Francisco, Miami, LA, Boston and Washington. Ideal properties will feature 150-400 rooms, plenty of communal space and four-star quality.
This is bound to be a winner. For starters, Virgin will no doubt leverage its vast Virgin Atlantic customer base to get the venture off the ground. "Book your flight and get a discount on your hotel!" would be a classic way to fill beds. And Virgin is one of the most powerful brands in the world; it has an estimated 60 million customers across 300 companies worldwide. The Group pulled in revenues of £18bn last year. That puts Virgin in a strong position to launch any new venture.
And speaking of new ventures, whatever's happened to Virgin Galactic? The space travel business may have fallen below the radar for now, but who knows, in a few years' time, Virgin Hotels could be offering bed and breakfast packages on the moon.
And another thing…
Yesterday, Smarta blogged about James Caan's new property firm and the rash of similar companies springing up in the UK. We do so love spotting a trend. Virgin Hotels will launch as a joint venture with ex-Barings boss Alberto Beeck and real estate mogul Diego Lowenstein. Together, the entrepreneurs plan to acquire $500m in properties over the next three years.