Virgin Limited Edition
Jon joined Virgin Hotels in August 1998 and was Operations Director for two years. He was Managing Director of La Residencia in Mallorca before returning as Managing Director for Virgin Hotels in late 2001. Jon has a wide range of experience within the hospitality industry, including positions in general and area management and group roles within Arcadian and Friendly Hotels. His current focus is on the development and expansion of the group.
ET: What have been some of the most pivotal moments in your life, personally and professionally?
Jon Brown: One of the most pivotal moments in my life was being made redundant at my job and getting a phone call on a wet, rainy Monday night, being asked if I’d fancy working in Mallorca. My wife was pregnant, we had a two-year-old, and we had just purchased a fixer-upper house. The job was to be Director at La Residencia, a hotel in Mallorca, and four weeks later I was there. That night changed everything.
My first encounter with Richard Branson was sitting at the bar, drinking champagne at La Residencia where he made me realize that running a hospitality business never has to be done by the book. You can challenge everything. With a little bit of freedom and putting faith in people and letting them run with it, you can achieve an awful lot. I have to mention as well, our chef/advisor Raymond Blanc, who is the epitome of passion. I’ve met with him many times and his energy and enthusiasm are so contagious and uplifting.
ET: You are responsible for managing a group of properties spread across the world. To what extent do you travel to visit them?
Jon Brown: Three or four times a year each is the target. Fairly regularly, primarily when we undertake an annual review meeting with each team.
ET: How autonomous is Virgin Limited Edition within the whole Virgin parent company?
Jon Brown: We work closely with many sister companies, and all Virgin companies share the same brand values, however we trade financially independently of one another.
We follow the same principles that all Virgin companies follow. We believe these shared brand values to be the most essential part of our company. Virgin stands for: Value for money, good quality, brilliant customer service, innovation, competitively challenging and fun. As a hotelier, I am left to manage and develop without interference, but I do get plenty of feedback, especially from Richard!
ET: How involved is Richard Branson in the division?
Jon Brown: Richard owns these properties, and they are his private homes effectively. He is passionate about them and likes to talk about them, frequent them and contribute to how we run them.
ET: What distinguishes a property in the Virgin Limited Edition collection?
Jon Brown: They have soul. The staff has spirit and are encouraged to inject their own personalities into everything they do. Caring for guests, providing the very best friendly service, going the extra mile when it comes to those all important extra touches, listening to our guests and offering so much more than just a place to rest your head is what we strive to be. Our quirkiness is also a nice distinction—you won’t find cookie-cutter hotels in our collection. We have a private island, mountain retreat, villa, game reserve, lodge, restaurant and a private member’s club. Eclectic, yes, and all operate with the sole aim of creating amazing experiences for our guests.
ET: These small properties are so popular with an elite traveler-—what does this very discriminating traveler demand from their visit these days?
Jon Brown: We attract those who value excellent service, tailored experiences and non-traditional hotel settings. We also find that our guests value social responsibility and are interested in our charitable arms, Pride N’ Purpose at Ulusaba and Virgin Morocco at Kasbah Tamadot. Through these organisations, guests can visit the nearby communities and see firsthand how we are making a difference and giving back to the local communities. Another common theme is that our guests connect with the staff at every level. For example, the respect that we have for local culture seems to bring out the best in our people and that can only lift the guest experience.
ET: Is the definition of luxury evolving in any way?
Jon Brown: “Luxury” is a personal concept. To look back 15 years ago and compare the leading hotels / resorts of the world to those who are leaders today, one would have to recognise the difference in size and scale and its relationship with understated design and amenities. Also, experiential and tailor-made travel has made its way into the luxury travel segment and is thriving!
ET: Any plans for the Virgin Limited Edition to grow soon?
Jon Brown: We are constantly approached about management contract opportunities. We hope to expand the collection over the years with several new opportunities in discussion.
ET: What has been a recent trip you took for leisure that you found especially memorable?
Jon Brown: Going to Rome, memorable as Manchester United were royally outplayed by Barcelona and lost the European Cup. On a more appropriate note, the trip was not entirely for leisure but visiting Cuba and having the most fantastic seafood dinner in a little house referred to as a Paladares, located down a dusty street next to Plaza Viaja was truly amazing. Memorable and more fun than any restaurant that I have visited in years.