Richard Branson chooses Edinburgh for first UK Virgin hotel
Global tycoon Sir Richard Branson today announced Edinburgh as the location for the first Virgin Hotel outside the United States.
India Buildings at the top of the city’s Victoria Street will be converted into a 225-room high-end hotel with multiple dining and drinking outlets, expected to open in 2020.
The hotel is also intended to host a wide-range of events, including gigs by local musicians.
The announcement was hailed as “a huge coup for Edinburgh” and is forecast to boost the local economy by £5 million. Around 200 full-time jobs are expected to be created at the hotel.
Virgin opened its first hotel in Chicago in 2015, based in a historic downtown office building and several more are under construction in the US.
Sir Richard said: “Edinburgh is such an iconic city and we’re thrilled to be able to say it will be the home of the first Virgin Hotel in the UK and across Europe.
“My grandparents were from Edinburgh, so Scotland has always held a special place in my heart.
“The people of Edinburgh have been so great in welcoming us to their great city; we can’t wait to open our doors to people across the country and, indeed, the world.”
The Virgin Group founder said uncertainty over Brexit had not deterred him from making the investment in Edinburgh.
He said: “In times of uncertainty sometimes it’s a good thing to invest.
“Brexit will definitely have a negative effect on the UK economy but the best way to offset that is for business people to continue to invest and not freeze like a rabbit in the lights of a car.”
There was controversy when plans for a hotel at A-listed India Buildings, descending right down to the Cowgate, were first unveiled in 2014 after developers Jansons bought the property.
Objectors claimed a new-build element of the project on a gap site in the Cowgate will block light from the neighbouring Central Library.
Community councillor Simon Byrom spent a week living in a tree on the site in protest at the plans. Virgin says it wants to involve the community in the project and showcase local music and entertainment.
Virgin Hotels chief executive Raul Leal said Edinburgh had been a natural choice for their first hotel in Europe.
“It’s a top travel destination, it’s an amazing place. I spent my tenth anniversary there. It’s an ideal location.
“It’s very fitting that our first hotel in Europe is a historic landmark building like Chicago.
“The location is fabulous and we love the fact we had to work round the building.”
He said when they first looked at the building, they walked through it asking: “Can we fit our proposition in here without disrupting the building?”
He said: “It has charming little spaces, especially the beverage areas. There will be plenty of surprises and delights - little coves and places for privacy, where people can have meetings or dine.
“From a physical perspective there won’t be too many changes inside the building except for restoring what is there and then overlaying a modern, but warm and sophisticated design.”
Rooms in the hotel –described as “chambers”– are divided into a dressing room and a sleeping lounge, separated by sliding doors, in a bid to allow guests maximum privacy.
Mr Leal said: “Instead of walking into a traditional room with a small corridor, a little bathroom to the right and a closet to the left, it will feel like you’re walking into a dressing room area where you’re able to unpack, plug in your technology, then you go into the second half of the room which includes the lounge bed.
“But the real reason for the dividing doors is for service. You could be in bed ordering room service and you could say you want it delivered in the front of the chamber; the room service waiter knocks, delivers but because the doors are closed you never see service being delivered. It’s a bit of privacy, a bit of security.
“”It gets rid of that awkward feeling you have when you’re standing in the door waiting for room service in your robe and you have to sign that dreadful little cheque.
“From the female perspective you don’t have to deal with someone being in your room whom you don’t want to see at that point.”