Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson urges Edinburgh to build more hotels to keep city centre ‘alive’
The tycoon, who was visiting the Scottish capital on Friday to launch the first Virgin Hotels project in Europe, said decades of investment had transformed Edinburgh from a “very run-down” city into one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.
Sir Richard said the hotel, which has transformed the 19th-century India Buildings complex on Victoria Street, offered an alternative to “slightly drab” traditional hotels in Scotland. And he suggested he would consider creating a second hotel in the city if the right site became available.
However, Sir Richard insisted hotel developments were not responsible for “over-tourism" issues in destinations around the world, blaming cruise liners for bringing in large numbers of visitors instead.
When Edinburgh was chosen for the development five years ago, he highlighted how his grandparents were from Edinburgh as well as his Scottish wife, Joan. He has been a regular visitor to the city for half a century, after opening his Virgin Records stores.
Sir Richard said: “If I go back to when I first came to Scotland, Edinburgh was very run-down. The people were lovely, but it hadn’t had the investment that was necessary. It’s come alive over the last 50 years. It is now the favourite city of many people around the world.
“When I was up on the roof of the hotel I just thought ‘my God, it’s an extraordinary city’.”
Virgin’s development opened last summer within weeks of the Gleneagles Townhouse on St Andrew Square. Coming projects include the W Hotel at the St James Quarter and several schemes on Princes Street.
Sir Richard said: “At peak times of the year in Edinburgh every single hotel room is taken and you could have double the number of rooms. The nice thing from the point of view of a hotel is that it doesn’t really matter if the sun is shining or it’s raining, as Edinburgh has so much going for it.
“Hotel developments are critical in bringing tourists into the centre of cities and keeping them alive. A city is going to be busier with every new hotel that opens.
“It [over-tourism] is a positive issue to have. It is easier to reduce your numbers than increase them. But I think that question comes more from things like cruise ships when you have 3,000 or 4,000 people flooding into cities. That’s when they have to ask questions.”
The 222-room Virgin hotel, which spans ten floors, includes two bar-restaurant areas and a dedicated events space. Sir Richard said: “It still feels like it’s a hotel in Scotland, but without any of that slightly drab feeling that you can get in traditional Scottish hotels.”
He added: “One of the reasons we wanted to open in Scotland was to try to be very different to traditional Scottish hotels. I think we’ve pulled it off.
“We were unbelievably lucky to find an iconic building like this below the castle. It was extremely important to enhance what was there before. If the people who originally built it came into today, I think they’d be bowled over.
“If something as special as this came up again, we would certainly consider it."