We recently spoke with Jon Brown, managing director of Virgin Limited Edition, and asked him five questions about Richard Branson’s extraordinary collection of award-winning luxury retreats around the world. Here’s what he has to say.
Jon Brown at Mahali Mzuri
Tell us a little about your background and how you got involved in Virgin Limited Edition.
I have a wide range of experience within the hospitality industry both in the United Kingdom and abroad, including positions in general management, area management and group roles with Arcadian Hotels and Friendly Hotels. I originally joined Virgin Hotels in 1998 as Operations Director, after two years I then went out to be Director of La Residencia in Majorca, a Relais Chateaux Hotel, which was owned by Sir Richard Branson at the time. I then returned to Virgin Limited Edition in October 2001 as Managing Director where I have been for the last fourteen years.
How do you ensure that the natural habitat of every resort location is protected?
We do a huge amount to protect the natural habitat of every resort; it’s high on our agenda. For example, at Ulusaba our private game reserve we control our game drive vehicles to minimise our impact on the bush as well as avoiding unnecessary off-road driving to protect endangered plant species. We monitor the health of the wildlife and assist in inoculation against harmful diseases. Each one of our properties has its own way of protecting and conserving its surroundings.
Do you involve the local communities in your operations as much as possible?
The local communities are hugely important to each one of our properties. As a company our recruiting policy is to recruit as locally as possible, therefore giving back to our communities by offering training and employment. Currently at Kasbah Tamadot our stunning property located in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco we have 135 local staff. We estimate that each employee supports six members of family so therefore we affect the lives of more than 800 local people. Eve Branson, Richard’s mother, leads the work of Virgin Unite in Morocco and runs the Eve Branson Foundation where they are implementing various projects to assist the local people. By partnering with local community leaders, Eve has spent time with the women in the village teaching skills such as knitting and encouraging them to continue the production of carpets. With their new skills, the women are producing garments including knitted goods, hand embroidered clothes and traditional carpets, which are sold in the hotel and the local village, allowing them to generate an income.
At Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa 100 percent of the staff are from South Africa. The property founded Pride ‘n’ Purpose, a charity that supports the local community and with the help of Virgin Unite, has done extensive work for the local communities. Ulusaba buys 99 percent of its food from South Africa including crafts, toiletries, wine, linen and towels. The nearby community provides supplies equivalent to at least 10 percent of the property’s total expenditure.
Tell us a little about the most significant initiatives and any plans you have to introduce new schemes.
Sustainability is a key component of the company’s ethos. At Virgin Limited Edition we are working hard to ensure that we have a positive economic impact on our local communities as well as creating wider reaching benefits. We’re very proud to say that our properties have a strong philanthropic cause.
The most significant and challenging initiative that we have started to work on would be the partnership between Virgin Limited Edition and the Carbon War Room. We plan to make Sir Richard Branson’s private island, Necker, a trailblazer in the transition off fossil fuels with the approach providing an example to many islands.
The island will serve as a demonstration project to provide the initial lessons from the Carbon War Room’s Ten Island Renewable Challenge in which we hope to transition Necker Island off imported fossil fuels onto on-site renewable energy—in the hope it will satisfy 50 percent of its needs in the first two years with a goal of 80–100 percent over the life of the contract.
The hope is that Necker Island will prove that renewable-led operating systems work as they were designed to, deliver energy at a lower cost than fossil fuels, are reliable under all weather conditions within an island context, achieve significant environmental benefits by reducing the impact of reduced fossil fuel transportation and generation on fragile island ecosystems, and blend in visually in a harmonious fashion.
If you had to choose, which of the Virgin Limited Edition resorts is your favourite?
I couldn’t possibly choose! All the properties are extremely special and each chosen for their individuality and location. The whole portfolio is unique in itself; there isn’t any other collection that includes a private island, a game reserve, a mountain retreat, a ski chalet, a villa, a restaurant, a private members club and a luxury catamaran.
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