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Branson Plans One-Stop Travel Shop as Virgin Atlantic Turns 40

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As Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. celebrates its 40th anniversary, founder Richard Branson plans to more closely integrate the airline with his cruise ships and hotel businesses to offer travelers a one-stop shop.

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(Bloomberg) — As Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. celebrates its 40th anniversary, founder Richard Branson plans to more closely integrate the airline with his cruise ships and hotel businesses to offer travelers a one-stop shop.  

Branson said he would look to make the brands work more seamlessly, with people traveling on Virgin Voyages cruises getting airline loyalty points, while adding more hotels in the destinations the carrier flies to.

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“It’s something which we should have done fifty years ago,” the 73-year-old Branson said in an interview at the company’s hotel in Las Vegas on Monday. “We had all these different Virgin companies, it is pulling the Virgin companies together under one umbrella.”

The upstart airline that took on British Airways back in the 1980s is now entering its fifth decade of service. Some of its innovations — from seat back entertainment screens to premium economy cabins — have been adopted widely, and in some cases more effectively, by rivals. Instead of attempting to compete with deep-pocketed Middle East carriers on hardware, Virgin plans to focus on its service and allowing customers to more seamlessly book across business units. 

Virgin brought its holidays brand into the airline business during the pandemic, and has rebadged it as Virgin Atlantic Holidays. The airline follows others such as British Airways in seeking to extract more money out of its holidays and loyalty business, with BA signaling at its latest earnings that it would combine the two units as both grow rapidly. 

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Virgin Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen said the rebrand was aimed at allowing the company to reach a broader range of customers. It plans to expand Virgin Atlantic Holidays to all its markets and will sell the UK as a holiday destination from the US and Canada by next year, he said. It will also look to sell more diverse holiday packages through its websites which allow travelers to add excursions and insurance. 

New Hotels

The hotel business is also expanding after retrenching somewhat during the pandemic. Three years ago it had just three operating hotels, but will reach 17 this week, including New York, Edinburgh in Scotland and Mallorca in Spain. Branson said he had been in Washington this week looking at another possible hotel to add to the stable. 

Virgin will also look at using data to personalize travelers’ journeys, Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss said. 

“It’s a journey end-to-end and then its joining up the dots,” he said. “Not just travel but maybe vacation with Virgin Atlantic holidays, selling hotels, providing more in a personalized way that is meaningful.”

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In terms of other in-flight innovations, Branson ruled out bringing back mid-air massages, as with only 10-12 slots a flight, too many potential customers ended up disappointed, but said he is looking at other ways the airline can differentiate itself in the cabin and lounges around the world. 

Rooftop Gym

One such innovation, cooked up during a morning workout with Weiss was to turn the rooftop of the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow into an outdoor gym. Branson said he hopes to introduce this in coming weeks. 

Even as the airline celebrates making it to 40 years, it faces fierce competition from rival British Airways which has announced a £7 billion transformation plan, and Middle Eastern rivals whose premium cabins are on another level in terms of space and comfort. Still, Branson remains confident of the airline’s prospects and ability to take on its biggest UK rival. 

“We’re flying to most of the major routes we’d like to fly to, and over the years ahead hopefully we’ll be able to get a few more slots and keep them honest on some further routes as well,” he said. “We have managed to give BA a run for their money on all the routes that we fly and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

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