For women, by women: A look inside Virgin Hotels

February 27, 2016

By Ethan Gabany ’17

When launching Virgin Hotels, Richard Branson promised that his new hotel brand would shake up the industry, while also providing a new design and offerings that would attract female business travelers. And who knows how to design and develop hotels for female business travelers more than female business travelers?

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Allie Hope ’04, vice president and head of hotel development for Virgin Hotels

Allie Hope, a 2004 graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration (SHA), leads the development team at Virgin Hotels. Although not by design, her team consists exclusively of women. Here’s what Allie had to say about Virgin’s unique approach to hotel development.

What inspired Virgin Hotels to cater to the needs of women?

From the day we announced Virgin Hotels, we recognized the guest room needed to be reinvented. Some of the offerings were no longer relevant, purpose of travel was changing, and duration of stay was increasing. So we wanted to transform the guest room and hotel experience for the better—not necessarily build it for females, but build it better for everyone. The result just happened to attract females.

With that being said, we didn’t ignore the fact that the number of women travelers is increasing year over year. They are holding powerful positions in the workforce and traveling more than ever before. And when it comes to travel, they do it differently, and we wanted to be sure we met their needs throughout the hotel.

In a 2011 study on female business travelers, Judi Brownell, professor of management and organizational behavior at SHA, found that women business travelers want to feel “safe, comfortable, empowered, and pampered.” What elements of a Virgin Hotel make women feel this way?

Our attention to safety begins in the hallways, which are all well-lit with overhead lighting and individual lights at the entrance of your Chamber. It has a very residential feel, but also gives guests a sense of security should they enter their room late at night.

Allie-Hope-image-quote2When we approached the room design—we call the rooms “Chambers,” we wanted to ensure we ticked all the boxes: safety, comfort, empowerment and the ability to be pampered, but also a few more; we wanted to create a room that felt like a home away from home, featured timeless design, and incorporated technology in a way that enhances the guest experience. But these elements weren’t being demanded by females alone; all people wanted a guestroom experience like this.

When guests enter their Chamber, they walk into “The Dressing Room,” a space that combines the hallway, bathroom, and closet. It offers two closets with plenty of storage space that bookend a well-lit vanity. On the opposite wall is a standalone makeup desk with a drawer for product, an oversized illuminated mirror, and a stool. Alongside the desk is a private water closet and generously sized shower with bench and handheld and rainfall shower heads. Dividing the two spaces is a solid wood sliding door that provides a second sound barrier and added privacy between the hallway and the sleeping area, which we call “The Lounge.”

In short, the room’s layout is similar to what you might have in your own home, and so it naturally feels comfortable.

If the guest wants to pamper herself, we offer a variety of in-room spa services that provide just that.

Allie-Hope-image-quote1What else makes a Virgin Hotel Chamber different from a hotel room?

The centerpiece of the bedroom is “The Lounge Bed,” a patented piece of furniture that is multi-functional. It offers a soft, padded headboard, ergonomically designed with a 120-degree pitch, and allows guests to recline and work easily with a laptop or tablet propped against their knees. Built into the footboard is a corner nook-like seat that adds more seating and the ability for couples to have a face-to-face conversation in bed.

The Lounge also offers a minibar stocked at street prices—a $1 bottle of water, or $2 granola bar, for instance—and it’s all stored in our signature red mini SMEG refrigerator. Good luck finding that at another hotel!

Finally, the room can be controlled via the guest’s smartphone using our app, Lucy. Lucy can adjust the room temperature (even when you’re not in your room), change the TV channel, order room service or extra pillows, and more. It empowers the guest to control their experience using their own device.

How have women responded to the first Virgin Hotel in Chicago?

We’ve gotten great feedback from both sexes. Here are some recent reviews we’ve enjoyed reading:

“I didn’t know anything about this hotel before coming, and all I can say is ‘wow!’ The design and comfort of my room is outstanding…

[and] everything in the minibar is market price!”
– “Bodelicious” on TripAdvisor

“I can’t stop raving about the rooms. They have a partition in the middle of the room, so if you’re sharing, you can have some privacy from the ‘bedroom’ and ‘bathroom.'”
– “Vivian H.” on Yelp

“The room setup was very useful and gave even the base-level rooms a feeling of having a suite. The shower was to die for!”
– “Atalia M.” on TripAdvisor

“There were lots of shelves and places for our clothing and luggage as well, which is always nice when you are traveling. Of course there was the mini-fridge with all kinds of goodies: liquor, candies, chips, healthy snacks, soda, etc. The shower was large and had a bench to sit down. The floors were wood, which was just a nice clean, modern look. I especially loved the little vanity.”
– “Morgan Richelle M.” on Yelp

What about men? Is the female-focused design having any negative impacts on their Virgin experience?

Absolutely not. There have been so many headlines that we’ve designed our hotel for females, and I think people’s perceptions are skewed until they visit and realize it’s not just for females, but a better hotel product for all. The Chamber layout and furniture pieces we chose are appreciated by both sexes, and who doesn’t love not being ripped off, or incorporating your own technology into the stay?

Are you starting to see other hotel companies focus on the needs of female business travelers too?

The industry is certainly not ignoring the fact that the number of women travelers is catching up to men. And we’re happy the industry is recognizing this!

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan Matos June 5, 2016 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Great stuff! I am totally going to stay at that hotel one of these days. I am a big critic of good service and hospitality and that includes to great experience you can get from staying in your hotel room. It sounds like Virgin Hotel is really raising the bar, and I can’t wait to see it! Thanks for sharing.

    -Jonathan

    • Ethan Gabany September 4, 2016 at 7:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback, Jonathan. Glad you enjoyed the article!

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