Richard Branson’s Virgin Group launches hotel brand

NORTH AMERICA Richard Branson is making his long-awaited entry into the hotel industry, with his Virgin Group announcing the launch of the Virgin Hotels brand.

The 4-star lifestyle brand is targeting 25 hotels by 2017, with the first property expected to open in 12 to 18 months. Virgin is targeting North America gateway cities for its initial rollout, specifically cities are serviced by carrier Virgin America—New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington.

Virgin Hotels will be headed by Anthony Marino, who has experience as a venture capitalist and who fills the role of managing partner in Virgin Group’s leisure and hospitality division. Former Desires Hotels President Raul Leal will serve as Virgin Hotels president and chief operating officer. Paul Whetsell, president and CEO of Capstar Hotel Co., will occupy an advisory role.

Virgin Hotels development will come primarily from conversions of hotels and possibly office buildings. reports that entrepreneur Alberto Beeck and real estate investor Diego Lowenstein will partner with Virgin Group on a US$500 million investment fund to acquire Virgin-branded hotel assets. is live, with information targeting potential developers and business partners. Hotels will typically have between 150 and 400 guestrooms and will offer F&B.