Virgin Group looks to go mobile, play music in India

MUMBAI: It was time to uncork the bubbly this afternoon in Mumbai as Virgin Atlantic Airways celebrated 21 years in existence by announcing the launch of its direct flight service from Mumbai to London. Maverick British entrepreneur and billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who has created one of the most recognised global brands in Virgin was, on hand to pop the champagne while photographers jostled for the perfect photo-op.



Flying High! - Sir Richard Branson

However it is not just airlines that are on Branson's mind. When asked by about the other plans he had for India, Branson said, "With the economy opening up in areas like aviation and telecom, India could become the fastest growing country in the world. I realise that it would be silly on the part of Virgin to ignore India. We are definitely looking at telecom. Virgin Mobile is the number one player in that space in the UK and in the US. We have already started discussions with local players and are in the process of formalising our strategy."



"The other service areas of The Virgin Group that I am keen on bringing to India include health clubs and financial services. The music retailing business of Virgin Megastore is another opportunity for us and it is a question of finding the right partners. Personally I would love to invest in your domestic airline industry. I realise that I may not be able to do it directly through Virgin. However I feel that the Indian government should allow for more flexibility in the rules. Sahara and the other domestic players should be allowed to fly into London just as we are allowed to come here. When Air India's monopoly was broken the Indian traveler benefited enormously," he said.



"We also have recently entered the arena of film and video editing. So that is another area that we could look at doing business with India in the future," Branson added.

As far as Virgin Atlantic Airways is concerned Branson noted that Virgin had started a service to Delhi in 2000. This was made daily a few years later. The Mumbai service will offer flights thrice a week. Branson will spend the next ten days holding discussions with the aviation ministry about allowing for further frequencies. Virgin Atlantic is hoping to operate flights to and from London to at least seven more destinations including Hyderabad and Amristar in Punjab.

Right now, its market share through the Delhi route is 12 per cent. With Mumbai being added it is targeting a share of around 22 per cent. Branson pointed out that an advantage is the timing of the flight, which leaves Mumbai in the afternoon at 2:45 pm. "The route will benefit from the competition Virgin Atlantic will provide. This will lead ultimately to better value of money and quality of service for passengers. A few Bollywood stars already enjoy our product as they have been flying from Delhi. I feel that the London route from India has been under served for too long a period," he informed.

As far as service is concerned the airline will offer cuisine from London's Vama Restaurant as well as Cobra beer. The airline will also offer a cocktail service for Upper Class passengers. As Branson says, "Over the past few years around 20 of our competitors who flew across the Atlantic like Pan AM, TWA went bankrupt. What has kept us ahead of the curve is the quality of service. We have successfully competed with British Airways due to this factor. For the Mumbai service we have an advance load factor of 70 per cent for April and 60 per cent in May. The introductory price is Rs 27,000."

As had been reported earlier by, Virgin Atlantic Airways has introduced its new marketing campaign. Virgin as a brand positions itself as a "pampering experience." This is translated through their chauffeur pick and drop, massage therapy, on-board bar and freedom menu in its upper class.

Virgin's new campaign focusses on capturing the spirit of Mumbai through the illustration of a Superstar's pampered lifestyle, symbolic of Virgin's onboard comfort. The campaign is also supplemented by a radio campaign along with outdoor and promotional activities like SMS Contest.

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