When I first got my start in the music business, record shops were often stuffy, insider places that conversely didn’t cater for individual tastes and certainly didn’t make people welcome. We created Virgin Records stores where people wanted to hang out; they were filled with knowledgeable employees who loved to talk with customers and make them feel at home.
Then when we looked to expand, I was inspired by the terrible example of the airline industry, which treated customers like cattle and gave them no choice, no entertainment and certainly no friendliness. The attitude was that flyers should feel privileged to fly with the airline, rather than the airline being privileged to host their guests. With Virgin Atlantic we changed all that, introducing friendly cabin crew who actually liked interacting with people, unique offerings like seatback entertainment, flat beds, bars in the plane and of course delicious food options.
It’s all about personalisation and treating people like adults. These principles continue to serve us well across all of our businesses and sectors. Take Virgin Hotels, where we created The Know, our preference program to design exceptional experiences unique to every guest. Got an allergy? Want a distinctive cocktail ready upon arrival? Let us know with The Know. Want to adjust the temperature in your room? Use our app. Want to make an extra special request? Press the Yes! button on your room phone and the team will make it happen.
Another example that really comes to mind is Virgin Voyages, who have been shipteasing our offering ahead of our first journeys going on sale in February. One of the wonderful ways Virgin Voyages are focusing upon personalisation is by curating a creative collective of the world’s leading design firms to reimagine how sea travel looks and feels.
Rather than go to tried and tested names in cruising, we wanted something special that will resonate with sailors but also surprise them. From Roman and Williams to Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio and Concrete Amsterdam to Softroom, they are sure to keep us on our toes. Rather than just picking one, we know that this range of brilliant designers will take our designs in new and different directions, demonstrating diversity throughout the ship.
Each area is specifically designed with consideration for the social and creative experiences meant to take place within. To see what we mean, just take a look at the restaurant offering. Gone are the days of customers being herded in and out of a stuffy buffet. Our first ship, Scarlet Lady, will have more than 20 food choices on board, all made to order and included in the cost of your voyage. And - it goes without saying - there will be no forced formal wear, no assigned seating, and no set dining times.
There’s Razzle Dazzle, with its “nice” and “naughty” menus and already-infamous Drag Brunch. There’s Wake, the most glamorous restaurant on the ship, with a dramatic grand staircase and a theatrical take on steak and seafood. There’s The Test Kitchen, a laboratory-like eatery that is part cooking school and part restaurant. Not to mention Korean BBQ restaurant Geonbae, Extra Virgin - the ship’s trattoria, beach club-inspired space Dock, The Galley and many more.
It’s all about what suits you, not what suits the company’s preconceived expectations or prearranged plans. Because that’s not how holidays work, it’s not how humans work, and it’s not how we work and play. We want you to have the best possible experience with us, which means the experience that suits you. Now that’s an epic sea change.