Remarks by Sir Richard Branson that Virgin Galactic was only weeks away from entering space flights reignited excitement around the world recently that space tourism was finally on the cusp of fruition. It’s been more than 10 years since Virgin Galactic was first announced, and one of the top-selling travel businesses promoting the experience has been the Virtuoso luxury travel network.
To date, Virtuoso has sold between 120-130 passengers so far on Branson’s space tourism venture, according to the travel company’s President and CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch. With tickets originally priced at US$200,000, and now selling for $250,000 a pop, that’s some very healthy travel agent commission.
Upchurch told LATTE he was excited about Branson’s recent remarks. He himself is a Virgin Galactic “founder” passenger; as an early investor in the project, the Texan will be among the first 84 customers to be propelled into space once Virgin Galactic is finally operational.
Branson has since clarified that commercial space flights are likely still several months away, but each powered test flight of VSS Unity continues to go higher and higher.
“But I am very enthused. I’ve been involved in Virgin Galactic since 2007, both having the relationship with Virtuoso and as a client,” Upchurch said.
The future space traveller said that to Branson’s credit, those who committed to forking out a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the space experience have already seen a return on investment.
“I will tell you this: every one of my friends and the people that I advised to buy a ticket who didn’t is now wishing they had. He didn’t take people’s money and sit on it for 11 years. People are looking for experiences, and I told people about this. Some listened and have had a great time and some didn’t listen and now wish they had.
“Richard has created a community of his own. And now, I look back on the last 11 years – and while of course I’d like to have been in space already – that $200,000 that I spent has already been worth every penny based on the parties and experiences.
“If there’s one thing Virgin and Richard know how to do, it’s throw a party. As a Virgin Galactic client, the things I’ve gotten to do… I got to go to the Farnborough Air Show in a Virgin Galactic enclosure where I had top military brass from all over the world taking pictures of me. It was like we were the latest scud missile!”
“Last Summer we did Camp Eclipse,” He continues. “Virgin Galactic literally built a tented camp in the middle of nowhere in Idaho and we had this three-day-weekend where we got to see the full eclipse of the sun. It was so cool.”
The event included a silent disco, while a special guest at Camp Eclipse was Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer.
Upchurch was also present at the unveiling of Virgin Galactic’s first commercial spaceship, SpaceShipTwo, with Californian Governor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Branson in the Mojave Desert.
“So, the reality is that that 200 grand has been fantastic, and it’s all a bonus from here,” he told LATTE.
The Virtuoso boss said he expects Virgin Galactic and space tourism to be categorised under the Virtuoso Ultraluxe Travel community when it launches in 2019.