On this episode of the Hotel Design Podcast we have Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels. Raul is a career hotelier who followed his father into the business with the ambition to become the GM of the Miami hotel his father worked at for 43 years. He got his start as a busboy at the same hotel. We learn how Virgin’s inaugural hotel became the #1 in the US and #6 in the world (via Conde Nast Traveler) and how Raul found success earlier in his career by taking a Chicago hotel from the lowly 400’s to #1 in the rankings. He reveals the secret at the end of the interview!

Hotel-Design-Podcast---Show-Templates_v34When Virgin decided to enter the hotel sector Raul explains they started with a blank slate. The focus was to identify “guest displeasers” and concept around these to disrupt the status quo by executing on service and comfort – the Virgin concept of “if we can’t disrupt it, we shouldn’t be in it”. Raul discusses the differentiation touch points and his role on Cornell’s Board of Innovation, which championed the needs of the female business traveler. The findings supported the female guest as more discerning which leads to a better product.

Raul discusses in depth the Virgin Hotel brand orientation briefing to the design professionals working on their projects. Key areas of design include styling the guestrooms (referred to as chambers) to feel more like an apartment , the need for great lighting is a must, design for the highest housekeeping scores, muted tones – never trendy and with a more thoughtful aspect. Current projects under construction include New York, Dallas, New Orleans, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Nashville and Edinburgh. The recent acquisition of Hard Rock Las Vegas will see one of the biggest hotel openings in the world once complete and Raul emphasizes there is only one shot to make sure it is done right. The conversation includes the unique nature of each project, be it ground up construction, as in New York, where there will also be 60,000 sq. ft. of retail space or the repurposing of historic buildings and the adaption of an operating asset such as Las Vegas where each of the three towers will be renovated consecutively and closed before the big reveal and opening.

In winding up this fascinating conversation, Raul shares the special Virgin unscripted culture of an empowered team and offers a lead on the new cruise venture Virgin Voyages.


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