Nakheel taps into Branson’s ‘World’

Sir Richard Branson has been approached by Nakheel to snap up one of the islands on the world, which would, in turn, be converted into an island promoting Virgin products.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  November 20, 2005

Sir Richard Branson has been approached by Nakheel to snap up one of the islands on the world, which would, in turn, be converted into an island promoting Virgin products. Speaking to Arabian Business after confirming the launch of flights between Dubai and London next March, Branson said: “It is correct, we have had an approach. I don’t know if Great Britain is available, and it is something we will check out. But we are at a very early stage.” He added: “There are opportunities to do something different, maybe showcasing the best of Virgin, but at this stage it is just an approach and we will take a view later.” Earlier this year Nakheel sold “Greenland” to a group of Kuwaiti investors, who intend to turn the island into a luxury leisure park. Another island is expected to be turned into an Islamic hotel. With most tycoons and celebrities preferring to buy properties on The Palm — including soccer stars David Beckham and Ronaldo — it is thought Nakheel may now be concentrating more on corporate sales of the islands. The revelations came as Branson began the official run to his Dubai service on Virgin Atlantic, and opened the region’s biggest Virgin Megastore — encompassing 40,000 square feet — at the Mall of the Emirates. The flights to Dubai are scheduled to begin on March 27 next year, with Upper Class services available on the planes — putting the airline in direct competition with Emirates Airline and British Airways. Branson explained: “In this region we are primarily competing with Emirates, but the Dubai government has been encouraging us to come here for some time. They believe it will help the region and the industry. My view is we can compete very hard in the day time, but can be friends in the evening and the weekends.” Industry experts are waiting to see Branson’s pricing scheme for the route, amidst speculation he may initially under cut the competition. But he said: “Our pricing policy will be the same that it has always been. I am sure that there will be fierce competition in bucket shop travel agents over the price, but if I was to announce today that we are coming in at a lower fare, then Emirates and British Airways would do the same. There would then be a fierce price war which I do not think would be good for anyone.” Branson hinted that the Dubai route may be the first of many to the region, with flights between London and Abu Dhabi, and London and Doha, also a possibility in the future. The Virgin tycoon also revealed that the launch of flights to Dubai will herald a huge push of the Virgin brand throughout the region, with other products including financial services and leisure clubs also on the cards. Branson admitted he has also been approached by two other “rulers in the region” over bringing Virgin Galactica — the planned commercial services into space — to the area. He said: “The technology that we have at the moment is mostly in the US, in the form of the space station that we are building there (from which flights to space will be launched). If we can get permission to export that technology abroad, then yes we may bring it to the Gulf. We have been asked about it and are looking into it.” The Virgin boss is also confident that the launch of Virgin Megastore in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates will prove a success. He told Arabian Business: “Nobody else is opening music shops. We are very brave." Branson’s Dubai visit coincided with the arrival of former US president Bill Clinton in the city. The two men met for dinner at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah hotel last Tuesday night, with both men lined up to make key note speeches in the region. He said: “I have been here many times before, but now that we are pushing ahead with a lot of plans for the Virgin Group in this area, it has been pretty hectic — but a lot of fun.”

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