Sir Richard Branson aims to shore up his airline and travel interests hit by the coronavirus global travel sutdown by selling $500 million in Virgin Galactic shares.

Virgin Group told the New York Stock Exchange it planned to sell 25 million shares in the space tourism venture in a series of transactions.

The company said: “Virgin intends to use any proceeds to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19.”

The freeze in global travel is affecting a host of Virgin Group companies, including Virgin Atlantic as well as its holidays, cruises and hotels businesses.

Virgin Atlantic last week announced it would cut 3,150 jobs, move it Gatwick operation to Heathrow and rebrand Virgin Holidays.

Chief executive Shai Weiss insisted at the weekend that he was “100% confident” the airline can survive the Covid-19 crisis.

The airline, in which founder Branson still holds a majority 51% stake, has been seeking emergency investment as well as some form of state aid while the majority of it fleet remains grounded.

About a dozen investment groups have been reported as showing interest in the UK long-haul carrier while talks continue with the Treasury and transport secretary Grant Shapps.

The airline was told last month that it needed to resubmit a £500 million bid for government state aid amid reports the Treasury had felt the carrier had nit exhausted other options.

Virgin Australia entered administration last month as the airline industry struggles to survive global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kuoni to launch online video appointments for customers

Standfirst: Luxury brand says experts will be more important in new-look travel era

Luxury tour operator Kuoni is poised to launch a new video appointment service so clients can speak to and see its consultants from home.

The service, due to launch officially on Friday, has been revealed as the operator’s own 48 high street stores and John Lewis concessions remain shut during the CPVID-19 lockdown.

The brand hopes to capitalise on the boom of video chat apps like Zoom as home workers and families get used to connecting over the internet.

Kouni believes having real travel experts who customers can see and talk to about their holiday plans “will be more important than ever in the new-look travel era”.

The video appointment service will offer scheduled, bespoke video conversations with a travel expert who can help tailor-make travel arrangements to destinations globally.

Kuoni says it has had a a steady stream of new enquiries for 2021, with more people than ever starting to request video chats rather than use the phone.

Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent Der Touristik UK, said: “Before lockdown there was little appetite for video appointments, but the need to stay at home has changed people’s perception of, and familiarity with, video calling.

“What was seen as strange and awkward a short while ago is now commonplace. Attitudes have shifted massively in a really short space of time.”

Kuoni says it has seen an upturn in face-to-face appointments over the past year with the average length of each appointment around two hours,.

More than half (59%) of clients come to appointments looking to be inspired and with no set idea of where they want to go.

Jones said: “Meeting someone face to face, even by video link, creates a rapport with customers and a genuine understanding about the type of trip we can create for them – there’s a personal connection that you often don’t get from an anonymous voice over the phone.”

“Trust will be absolutely vital to travel’s recovery – if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from this crisis it’s that customers have value having a real person to talk to.

“There’s no doubt that people want a holiday to look forward to, but they also want expert insight about the ease and safety of travel plans for the future.

“Being able to see someone from the outset, and then know that there is someone there to help them if things change and they need help amending their trip is going to be central to our business in the new-era.

“This is a great time to innovate and deliver something that we think people are going to value.”

“Planning and booking a holiday is one of the most important decisions of the year and, in the case of honeymoons, weddings or other special trips, it’s also one the most important decisions of people’s life.

“So we want to create an environment which is safe, but brings that same level of happiness that they’d normally get by seeing a trusted travel expert face to face.”