Had a chance to chat with Sir Richard Branson at Virgin America's reception Tuesday night at the swanky Thompson Hotel rooftop bar, which might have the best Toronto view in town.
It wasn't easy squeezing past all the women who wanted to have their pictures taken with him (can't understand why, other than the charisma, the hair, the chiseled good looks, the perfectly trimmed facial hair and nice clothes, and the money). I finally managed to elbow my way past a 30-something brunette with a dumbstruck look on her face and got in a few words with a very amiable Branson.
He's understandably high on Toronto, which is why Virgin America last week made its first-ever foreign landing a stop in Toronto. They're flying here now from San Francisco on a daily basis, and it's great news for the city's tourism folks, as is the first Thompson Hotel in the city.
"Toronto has a lot of energy," Branson told me. "You did well during the financial crisis and it's a great film centre, as well as a great place for finances, computers and games. There are terrific restaurants and theatre. It reminds me a bit of San Francisco, except for the geography, although you do have the waterfront."
Branson said he brought Virgin America here not just because Torontonians want to fly to California.
"I looked at this from a California perspective, and a lot of people in San Francisco and Los Angeles want to come here."
"It's a huge gain for us," said Tourism Toronto spokesman Andrew Weir. "To have an airline like Virgin America come to Toronto is a real asset for us, as well as the opening of new hotels like the Thompson."
It was a chillly night in Toronto by summer standards, but the rooftop bar was swinging the views out over downtown were outstanding. There were small Virgin America planes scattered around the (small) infinity pool, so I grabbed a photo of one.
"We want to give Air Canada a run for its money," Branson said. "We think Toronto needs more low-cost options and a great airline like Virgin America."
He also said he'd like to add Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec some day, as well as other U.S. cities. Wire reports suggest Branson is eyeing Chicago, Dallas and maybe Austin, Texas. The airline announced Tuesday that they'll start flying from California to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico and to Cancun.
In addition to his airline, Branson told me he'd like to get into the financial biz in Toronto, feeling there's a fit for his company's approach.
"The financial service business in Canada is in the hands of very few companies and we think a little more competition would be good," he told Bloomberg news.