Going Boldly: Q&A With Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson

by  Darren Frei | May 2, 2011
Virgin Atlantic Airways tailfin
Virgin Atlantic Airways tailfin / EdithRum/iStock

One of the world’s most intrepid globe-trotters, Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson talks about his new hotel venture, his favorite London restaurants, and the final frontier.

We’re excited to see the first four-star Virgin Hotel open later this year in a major U.S. gateway city like New York or Los Angeles. How will Virgin Hotels stand out?
Our loyal customers have grown addicted to our attention to detail and brilliant customer service. They have a good idea already of what our hotels will offer because they know and appreciate how our airlines, travel, and wellness companies have beautifully reimagined airplane cabins, airport lounges, gyms, and other spaces—they’ve become places we actually look forward to [visiting].

What’s your favorite hotel in the world?
I don’t actually have a favorite hotel, sorry. However, I find myself spending more and more time in New York and enjoy my stays at the Surrey.

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
I think the best place in the world can be anywhere you want it to be—it’s the people you are with that make the place special. So hanging out with friends and family, great food, a nice glass of wine, downtime, getting lost in a great book…same as most people, really.

Any tips on traveling smarter?
Try to stay at smaller, independent lifestyle or boutique hotels. They show a lot of care to each guest and help create amazing experiences.

What is your top “smart splurge” restaurant in London and why?
My family and I like Halepi in West London—outstanding Greek food, and the atmosphere is buzzy and fun. I may be a little biased, as it is Virgin owned, but Babylon on Kensington High Street has a fantastic menu, and the newly refurbished bar is a great place to relax with a predinner drink. Also, the staff is world class.

What are your favorite summer and winter travel destinations?
To visit and relax, it would have to be Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, which is fantastic all year round. I do like skiing, as well: I love both Switzerland and the U.S. as ski destinations.

Is there a place you haven’t been that you’re dying to explore, besides outer space?
I would love to explore the treasures of the deep blue sea. In fact, I might make 30,000 feet below [sea level] my destination of choice this year.

Virgin Galactic is getting closer and closer to launch. Do you ever anticipate space travel becoming accessible to the masses?
Yes, that is one of Virgin Galactic’s aims. Right now, we have more people signed up for suborbital trips than the number of people who have gone to the moon thus far. So I’d expect that the continued demand will help drive the price down and more people will be able to experience the wonders of suborbital travel…and much, much more!

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