Virgin Hotels Opens First Hotel in the World


Marking a milestone in the history of the Virgin brand, the company set off to open their very first hotel, Virgin Hotels Chicago in January 2015. The brand’s first foray into the hotel industry joins a stellar portfolio of hospitality companies led by Virgin Group and its founder Sir Richard Branson. Evoking the same excitement, heartfelt service and smart innovation that Virgin is known for, the new hotel set out to make a difference in the marketplace.

Since the brand’s inception, Virgin Hotels Chicago has been a champion of the customer, the hotel brand offers free Wi-Fi, and has eliminated early check-in and late check-out fees, room service charges, business center transactions, and other services that have caused frustration for travelers.

Virgin Hotels turned to Zapwater Communications to announce the new hotel, ignite brand awareness and position the new brand as a leader among the hotel industry. With the hotel market booming in Chicago as well as innovative brands launching all over the world, Zapwater needed to develop an aggressive strategy encompassing media relations, grassroots marketing, digital campaigns and a grand opening event.



To launch the hotel’s website and social media channels, Zapwater created a four-week contest called the Rumors campaign in August 2014. Visitors to the new website were greeted by Sir Richard Branson asking users to post their own #VirginRumors for a chance to win free stays at the hotel. To continue the buzz, a local street artist painted the canopy of the construction site with the rumors, and street teams placed red doormats with the rumors in front of competing hotels throughout the city.

Free The WiFi

Unlike other lifestyle hotels that charge up to $19.99 for Wi-Fi, Virgin Hotels eliminated this fee by offering hotel guests unlimited bandwidth. To disrupt the marketplace and announce the offer, a Virgin-branded van transmitted free Wi-Fi into two local hotel lobbies so guests could use the network, aptly named: FREE THE WI-FI. An on-site street team was hired to help spread the message with branded collateral.

Grand Opening

On April 16, 2015, Virgin Hotels Chicago held their grand opening and the teams looked to create a major news moment. Paying homage to Chicago, Virgin created a replica of the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off parade featuring Sir Richard Branson singing and dancing with a full marching band in tow. The parade ended at the hotel’s main entrance which made for an incredible photo opportunity.


During the pre-opening stunts, social media channels gained more than 1,500 followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and the Rumors campaign had more than 3,000 submissions. Zapwater also secured the first media exclusive with Adweek, which resulted in 17 total media placements for the campaign. Total media impressions resulted in more than 30 million with a CPM (cost per media impression) of $1.49.

For the grand opening, every major broadcast outlet in Chicago was on-sight capturing Sir Richard Branson at the parade, airing on more than 25 news programs throughout the day and the next morning. #bransonsdayoff became a trending topic on twitter, and both @virginhotelschi and @virginhotels gained over 1,500 new followers.


During the hotel’s opening months, Zapwater generated 388 media placements in print, online, radio and TV outlets. Top placements include New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Entrepreneur, Fast Co. Design, CNN Money, Nightline News, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Windy City Live, WGN Radio 720, WGN-TV, WFLD-TV Fox Chicago, Details, PopSugar, Bloomberg Businessweek, Departures, LA Times, Travel + Leisure and many more.


From January to April 2015, Zapwater generated more than 440 million media impressions and the total calculated publicity value was more than $39 million dollars.