Virgin Hotels won't launch its first property until January, in Chicago. But that isn't stopping the Richard Branson company from getting its membership program up and running, giving us a sneak peek at how the highly-anticipated property aims to run things differently.
"The Know," announced this week, is clearly a Virgin-branded approach to customer service. The sign-up process for the "preference program" — with its questions about minibar preferences, favorite music and cocktails — is less about the hotel room and more about providing an experience.
"We called it 'The Know' for two reasons," Doug Carrillo, vice president of sales and marketing at Virgin Hotels, told Mashable. "Because we want to know who you are as a traveler. And because we want members to be 'in the know' of what's going on with other Virgin companies."
The questions Virgin Hotels focus on personal preference and tastes more than room upgrades. Carrillo emphasized that the company really wants to offer "surprise and delight" to guests.
Room rates at the Chicago property start at $245 a night.
Virgin Hotels cannot offer perks similar to those at large chains like Marriott and Hilton. There will be just the one hotel, for at least the first year. But by anticipating what snacks you want in the minibar, or what activities you like to partake in, Virgin is hoping to create an experience and a reputation that differentiates itself.
"Virgin Hotels wants to be 'your place' in the city, whatever city you're in," he added.
Though differentiation is what the company is after, the pursuit of providing a personalized experience is happening across the industry.
To get an edge, Virgin Hotels will also be turning to its network of travel companies — Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic — to reward loyal customers.
Richard Branson announced Virgin Cruises this month, and that too could eventually integrate with hotels' program, according to Carrillo.
"We're talking to a lot of other Virgin companies in the U.S. and abroad about some of the different things we may be able to offer to our 'Know' members (ahead of the public)," said Carrillo.
Carrillo said that hotel rewards will follow as more properties open.
While many hotels partner with other companies to coordinate guest perks, Virgin Group is setting up offerings that cross nearly every sector of the travel industry.
The Chicago hotel will open Jan. 15 in the Loop district. The next Virgin Hotels are planned for Nashville and New York by 2016, and eventually in London.
"Our point of view was we’re going to have 50 hotels one day, so let’s do it right," Allie Hope, the company’s head of development and acquisitions, said in February of this year. "Let’s make sure the product is really taken care of and not skimp on that just for the sake of getting hotels."