Flashy business tycoon Sir Richard Branson has opened the doors to his first Virgin Hotels property in Chicago. The new brand aims to attract young, creative, connected travelers with the promise of free Wifi, flexible check-in and check-out times and a nightly 'social hour' at the two-story bar.
After planes, trains and spaceships, Branson unveiled his latest travel-related venture last week.
Located in the heart of the city's Loop district, the hotel has transformed Old Dearborn Bank Building, a Chicago Art Deco landmark, into a 250-room property that includes 40 one-bedroom suites and two Penthouse Suites.
The brand concept, says Virgin, is to move away from traditional hotel models and eliminate surcharges like early check-in and late check-out fees, room service delivery charges, business center transactions and Wifi fees.
Rooms are also divided into two spaces by sliding doors to give guests the sense of living in a small apartment: the dressing room includes a vanity shower and closet, while the living space includes a mini-fridge, TV, swivel-table and chair.
Beds are ergonomically designed to allow business travelers to set up shop and allow guests to comfortably watch a movie from their laptop.
At the heart of Virgin Hotels Chicago is The Commons Club, which will host a nightly Social Hour and international menu.
Meanwhile, Branson's vision isn't totally new.
Major multinational hotel groups such as Starwood, InterContinental and Hilton have been rolling out niche, boutique hotel brands pitched to offer customized, hyper-local, design-centric experiences in place of cookie-cutter rooms.
Starwood's Aloft series, for instance, is marketed heavily towards tech-dependent Millennial travelers with modern, open-space designs and free Wifi.
Likewise, InterContinental's Indigo and Canopy by Hilton aim to differentiate themselves from their flagship brands by offering hyper-local experiences for guests who seek more unique, authentic travel.
A second Virgin Hotels is planned for Nashville next summer, while a third property is scheduled to open in New York in 2017.