As President and Chief Executive Officer of the hip and affordable airline Virgin America (an Oyster fave), David Cush spends 7 to 10 nights a month in hotel rooms. He’s seen it all — the good, the bad, and the amusing — and some of his best hotel experiences have even helped to inspire and shape the Virgin America passenger experience. To kick off our Oyster Interviews series, we chit-chatted about hotels, Wi-Fi, and comfy hotel beds with Mr. Cush, the chief of the hip jetsettin’ crowd himself. Enjoy.
Oyster: We had a memorable experience on our very first VA flight to Vegas. So, naturally, we’ve gotta ask this first: What’s your favorite Las Vegas hotel?
David Cush: The Hotel at the Mandalay has a special vibe. It has all of the action that you would expect at a large Vegas hotel, including a great pool scene, but when you retreat back to your room at The Hotel, you could be a million miles away from the Vegas scene. A couple of hours of that is sometimes necessary after being in Vegas for a few days. It also has a great rooftop restaurant and club.
Oyster: Your airline has Wi-Fi for a fee on every flight. So, when it comes to hotel Wi-Fi, do you think of it as a great ancillary revenue source or must-have free amenity?
David Cush: It’s an interesting question. When I stay at a hotel that charges for Wi-Fi, I tend to use my cell card rather than pay. Of course, in the air, you don’t have that alternative. As far as Wi-Fi in the air goes, the investment is much more significant than providing Wi-Fi in hotels. Each aircraft costs about $100,000 to outfit and the ground network cost millions to construct. In order to recoup that investment and justify upgrades to the system, the revenue is necessary. So far, our guests agree and are more than willing to pay for the service. We have 20-25% take rates on some of our longer transcon flights.
Oyster: Generally speaking, is there any hotel service or amenity you find completely unnecessary?
David Cush: Not really, although I find the increasing number of hotels with irons and ironing boards amusing. In general, most travelers would say the more amenities the better. That is something we’ve tried to adopt for Virgin America as well – giving travelers options to the latest entertainment, Wi-Fi, power outlets, a healthier, more upscale on-demand menu — all the things they’ve come to expect at upscale hotels.
Oyster: Which is worse: a hotel room with too-few power outlets or a hotel room with an uncomfortable bed?
David Cush: Hands down, an uncomfortable bed. I tend not to spend much time in my room, other than sleeping, and generally arrive with a pretty good charge on my devices if I flew on Virgin America, since we have outlets under each seat. When there is a shortage of outlets, you sometimes have to get creative, like unplugging lamps and using outlets in the bathroom. While I love having an easily accessible power strip with six outlets, a good night’s sleep is more important for me.
Oyster: Any major hotel pet peeves?
David Cush: Two big ones—long lines at check in and when the fitness facilities are misrepresented on the website. Nothing is worse for someone who cares enough to check the website photos to find out that what looked like a spectacular gym on the website turns out to be a broken down treadmill and a few dumbbells. Flattering photography rather than a realistic assessment of the facilities guarantees that I will not be back. [Ed Note: Oh, we know].
Oyster: What’s the coolest tech feature you’ve seen in a hotel?
David Cush: I like the new television platforms that a few hotels have put in. Between flat screens and selection menus like you get on good cable and satellite systems, it makes viewing much more efficient. A close second would still be the good, old-fashioned minibar.
Oyster: Have any hotels inspired any of the service philosophies and hospitality standards at Virgin America?
David Cush: Yes – definitely. A guiding principle for us in launching as a new airline was to offer more guest-facing amenities – similar to what boutique hotels have done over the past decade or two. The question asked at launch was: why can’t a domestic airline be guest-facing and harness the best in design and new technology to make the flying experience a little bit more stylish, comfortable and high-tech? Domestic airlines have lagged a little behind in this area and Virgin America’s philosophy is to reinvent flying with the best in design (like mood-lit cabins that changes lighting based on outside light, and deeper, more ergonomically-correct seating).