Interviews.

Behind the scenes at Virgin Galactic

With the launch of commercial space tourism rocketing ever closer, Click. sits down with Martijn Brouwer, General Manager of Astronaut Experience and Hospitality at Virgin Galactic, to get the inside scoop

by Leo Bear, Click. Travel Writer

Topic: Innovation

Click. Takeaway

  • A recent successful test flight suggests Virgin Galactic is getting close to launching its commercial space flights
  • When it comes to delivering a great guest experience, trust and the personal touch are key
  • The technology behind Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital flights has the potential to revolutionise long-haul air travel
  • Do not go stale and rely on your current success. Go boldly into the marketplace and explore
Martijn Brouwer at Spaceport America. Credit to Chris Lang

Martijn Brouwer, General Manager of Astronaut Experience and Hospitality at Virgin Galactic

Earlier in 2019, test passenger Beth Moses successfully completed her first Virgin Galactic spaceflight. When fully operational, sub-orbital flights will take place weekly from a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico. Passengers will be able to gaze at the majesty of Earth from beyond the planet’s atmosphere and experience six minutes of weightlessness from a spacecraft as luxurious as any private jet. The man in charge of the quality of this once-in-a-lifetime experience is former hotel general manager Martijn Brouwer.

Click.: What exactly are you responsible for at Virgin Galactic?
Brouwer: I am responsible for the experience of our Future Astronauts and their friends and family when preparing and going for their spaceflight in New Mexico USA. I am also responsible for supporting the local hospitality suppliers and for providing hospitality at Spaceport America for both our team and guests.

Click.: You’ve worked at some of the most luxurious resorts in the world as a General Manager. How has your background in hotels prepared you for your current role?
Brouwer: My experience creating incredible experiences for guests and working in amazing surroundings with amazing teams has allowed me to understand what makes guest tick and how to break down barriers between guests and our team to allow us to provide a deep personal service. When building a customer experience for space tourism, that empowering personal approach has become the keystone of our service delivery preparing our customers for one of the most intense experiences of their lives.

Click.: How will Virgin Galactic impact the hospitality industry?
Brouwer: Virgin Galactic will challenge the hospitality industry by delivering a service that is based on a huge amount of trust, creating a loyalty to our brand – reassuring not only our Future Astronauts, but also their friends and family, allowing them to live through their spaceflight experience without distractions both physically and emotionally.

Click.: No less than 650 ‘Future Astronauts’ from 58 countries have signed up with Virgin Galactic, paying $250,000 for the privilege. Can you briefly outline the guest experience?
Brouwer: Before our Future Astronauts are being called to New Mexico for their flight, they will go through a performance programme, supported by our performance partner. We have developed a three-day preparation programme at Spaceport America to take them through the hardware and software required for a successful spaceflight. The fourth day is ‘flight day’ when they will travel to space, supported by their friends and family.

For the hoteliers of the future, I would say: do not go stale and rely on your current success. Go and explore

Click.: What are the key ingredients to ensuring a memorable spaceflight?
Brouwer: The Virgin Galactic customer experience enhances the Future Astronauts’ awareness of their journey to space. They grow from seeing themselves as an individual, to a crew member, to a flight team. This is not just about going to space as a destination, it’s about how you get there and what you do with your experience.

Click.: What can future astronauts expect in terms of Food & Beverage (F&B) and accommodation in New Mexico?
Brouwer: I can confirm there will not be any F&B service during the flight [laughs]. However, we are in the middle of completing the fit-out of Spaceport America where we will be hosting our Future Astronauts. There will be a restaurant and full-service kitchen that will cater to both our team and our guests. For accommodation, we will be supported by local hospitality in Las Cruces. Being based in New Mexico allows us to celebrate the beauty of this desert state and all it offers.

Click.: Does sub-orbital space flight have the potential to revolutionise super-fast long-haul travel?
Brouwer: The technology developed behind a supersonic rocket-powered spaceplane could form the basis of a very high-speed intercontinental transportation system. This system could challenge jet travel as we know it today. We can move to hypersonic or even near-orbital velocities, this would mean we could travel between continents and oceans in a matter of an hour or two rather than 10 or 15 hours.

Click.: What advice do you have for others in the hospitality industry looking to break into new markets?
Brouwer: Virgin Galactic, but more so Virgin has a record – or possibly a deliberate philosophy – of taking on new or stale markets and doing things differently. Virgin Galactic moved into an industry lacking a true service culture. For the hoteliers of the future, I would say: do not go stale and rely on your current success. Go and explore. Space travel requires us to look at what lies beyond the horizon creating history by creating the future.

Hero image: credit to Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash

Leo is a freelance journalist based in London. She specialises in travel, design and wellness. Publications she contributes to include Tatler, Telegraph, House & Garden, Quintessentially, Porter and Sunseeker. Follow Leo’s adventures on Instagram @leonorabear

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