Branson's Latest Bet: Will 2014 Be the Year of Virgin Hotels?

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Former Staff Writer
2 min read

Though Richard Branson’s multifaceted empire already comprises hundreds of companies -- including airlines, music festivals, beverages and mobile phones -- 2014 could very well be the year of Virgin Hotels.

Last week, the billionaire announced plans for a 240-room hotel in Nashville, Tenn., which is scheduled to open in early 2016. This marks Branson’s third planned hotel location, following properties in Chicago (slated for this fall) and New York (also early 2016).

Nashville is a well-suited locale for Virgin Hotels, its CEO Raul Leal told The Wall Street Journal, being that both the company and the city boast deep ties to music.

He added: “We thought Nashville is an obvious choice because of its explosive growth, and international interest in the city because of music and television shows like Nashville.”

Related: Richard Branson on Why Making Employees Happy Pays Off

While the Virgin Hotels venture seems to be gaining steam, it has been a relatively long haul, the Journal reports. Branson announced the business back in 2010 and vowed the debut of the first property in 18 months’ time. Since its founding, Virgin Hotels has also had to withstand the departure of two top executives.

But with the Chicago operations in the midst of an all-out makeover and with its sights set squarely on Nashville, Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal said the business is at a watershed moment.

Setbacks occurred when the company’s initial plans to acquire real estate during the housing bubble didn’t pan out, reports The Journal, as banks chose to held on to properties rather than foreclose. The company then pivoted, seeking management contracts with hotel owners, where, as a new player, it was met with some trepidation.

Nevertheless, Leal believes contracts will be easier to win once Chicago is up and running. He also hinted that at least two more U.S. locations would be announced this year, as well as another in Branson’s hometown of London.

Related: Hilton Going Public: Good or Bad for Franchisees?

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