By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
September 15, 2009
British entrepreneur Richard Branson has been knighted, has assets worth several billion dollars and owns Necker Island in the Caribbean. The founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways also made an impact on pop culture by guest starring on such shows as “Friends” and “Baywatch.”
So where does the man who has everything travel to when he wants to take an amazing vacation? South Africa. Branson, 59, loves everything about the country and looks forward to heading back there next year to watch the soccer championship.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. I love South Africa. It’s such a vibrant country with plenty of energy, great food and inspirational music. The people make it such a welcoming destination. I love their vitality and creativity. It has emerged from such a troubled past with huge spirit and determination. Next year it will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a real milestone and proof that it can play a leading role on the world stage. I am full of admiration for Nelson Mandela. His leadership has played a major role in re-establishing South Africa.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. I spend a lot of my time at Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands now. We fell in love with it over 30 years ago and it has proved to be the perfect place to unwind and relax. We’re developing the island now as an environmental test bed, proving that wind and solar energy, along with clean fuels, can power communities around us. I also try to visit the Spanish island of Majorca and Loch Moidart in western Scotland as much as I can. They both offer the most beautiful scenery in very different ways and a different pace of life.
Q. What are your favorite hotels and restaurants?
A. I spend a lot of time traveling to promote various companies within the Virgin Group and learn about new environmental projects around the world, so I get to stay in a lot of places. Big city hotels and restaurants can blur into each other so I prefer the unusual or boutique hotels. In New York, I like Soho House (www.sohohouseny.com). I also like to visit the Virgin Limited Edition properties regularly, such as Ulusaba (www.ulusaba.virgin.com) in South Africa and Kasbah Tamadot (www.kasbahtamadot.virgin.com) in Morocco. One of my favorite restaurants is Icebergs Dining Room & Bar (www.idrb.com) in Sydney. There’s a great view of Bondi Beach while you eat!
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. I like to travel light. Regular travelers know that you can cut by 50 percent what you would normally take in your baggage and still not wear everything you take with! It depends on which part of the world I’m going to but I’ll usually take a jacket, a pair of chinos, a notebook and my Breitling watch. I find a notebook essential as so many ideas come to mind when I’m traveling. I also love listening to people’s experiences and their own ideas for improving products and service standards. Some of the best ideas will always come from our own passengers on Virgin Atlantic planes or from our pilots and cabin crew. The watch has a built-in GPS positioning signal, which hopefully I’ll never have to use. I’ve done enough round-the-world balloon trips!
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. I like to fit in as much as possible and have a busy schedule. It’s always important to talk to our great teams on the ground before I travel somewhere. Virgin people have a lot of knowledge and expertise, which always comes in handy. They are my eyes and ears before I travel somewhere.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. Space! We’ve set up Virgin Galactic to enable anyone to venture where few people have been before. I intend to go with my family on the first flight within 18 months. I can’t wait.
Q. What is your worst vacation memory?
A. My worst vacation memory must have been my honeymoon. We ended up getting shipwrecked and lost everybody at sea except my wife and I. We were vacationing in the Cayman Islands and had to swim a couple of miles to the Mexican coast and sand under feet had never felt better.
Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. I wish I could go incognito sometimes but sadly it’s not always possible. I guess a large pair of sunglasses, a big hat and getting rid of the beard would work. But the beard’s staying unless someone offers $2 million dollars for the Virgin Unite charity!
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer.)
© 2009 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.