At the end of September, Sir Richard Branson announced that he is getting into the hotel business. He plans to create a Virgin Hotel Empire. I have high hopes that he will approach the hotel business with an eye to doing things that guests will love, versus doing things the way they have always been done. The aim of the hotel project is to "redefine the customer journey from pre-arrival to check-out."
When I look at how the Virgin team approached Virgin America, I can begin to imagine how he might transform the hotel experience.
First, it's obvious that Branson loves technology. When you fly Virgin you can IM with your fellow travelers, easily connect to WiFi (often free thanks to partner promotions), watch live TV, play games or easily order movies and premium TV. And, you can order food and drinks from your personal console. No, none of this stuff is revolutionary but it works well and it's what you need when you're sitting on a plane and trying to pass the time.
I expect that Virgin Hotels will lead on technology. I imagine the hotels will take advantage of new ways to check in to the hotel and order food. And, because they value social interaction, I also expect them to allow guests to meet and socialize with other people staying in the hotel using location based services. Virgin America is very active on social media. The airline has more than 76,000 fans on Facebook and uses Twitter to engage with customers, share specials and follow up on customer service issues.
As simple as it is, one of the best things about flying Virgin is you have access to a power plug beneath your seat. There is a convenience factor to being able to work through a flight. I expect the hotels to provide the same level of convenience by giving you what you need, when you need it. Maybe it's access to printers or cappacinos or umbrellas... or a nail salon in the lobby. I don't know what 'it' is, but I expect a cool convenience to be part of the hotels.
Next, I expect cool design. You know you're on a Virgin plane when you board through the purple halo. While all planes have their own look and feel, Virgin has done something simple with light to remind you during boarding that you're on a Virgin flight. I imagine a strong focus on brand will be part of the hotels and will let you know that you have arrived at a winning brand's locale.
Finally, Virgin America uses irreverent humor and sexy overtones to make the safety announcement bearable. Travel is fun. Too many airlines and hotels have forgotten to make the experience fun. I expect Virgin to bring the fun back to hotels. I can't wait to see the roll out.