Sir Richard Branson: Israel is a country of great entrepreneurs

Branson expressed his willingness to meet and learn from Israeli entrepreneurs operating in the field of space technology.

Virgin's Richard Branson kisses the ground as he lands at the Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, October 23, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Virgin's Richard Branson kisses the ground as he lands at the Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, October 23, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
British billionaire businessman and Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson paid tribute to Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit on Wednesday, shortly after landing in Tel Aviv to inaugurate the airline’s new route from London Heathrow to Ben-Gurion Airport.
Voicing his opposition to boycotts as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Branson told reporters that Israel is a country of “great entrepreneurs doing incredible things,” and that the Virgin Group would likely increase its investments in the region following the launch of flights on September 25.

“There are definitely big issues that need to be sorted out in this region, and there need to be brave politicians who sort out these issues and say enough is enough,” said Branson, who kissed the ground after landing in Tel Aviv. “We have invested in both Israel and Palestine. When we start flying our airline to a country, on the back of that, other Virgin companies follow and are involved in lots of different areas. I’m sure we’ll be investing much more in the years to come.”
Branson expressed his willingness to meet and learn from Israeli entrepreneurs operating in the field of space technology. Virgin Galactic, a space-tourism subsidiary of Virgin Group, is due to go public on Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.
“If there are entrepreneurs here working in the field of space and have specific ideas, we would welcome being able to learn more from them,” said Branson. “You have so many incredible individuals in this area and other areas that could contribute a lot.”
Virgin Atlantic, headed by Israeli CEO Shai Weiss, commenced daily flights from London to Tel Aviv on September 25 and aims to take advantage of demand for cross-Atlantic travel by connecting passengers between Israel and the United States.
The launch of the new flight route places the company into direct competition with British Airways and Israeli national carrier El Al. Addressing Israeli consumer hopes that the increased competition will drive down prices, Branson said “our philosophy is never to go out with an empty seat.”
“The very fact that Virgin Atlantic is competing, that will drive the fares down,” he said. “We’ll bring them down to a level where the planes are full. My guess is the competition will answer.”
The five-hour flight – the company’s shortest from the UK – will operate on Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A330-300 aircraft and offer in excess of 180,000 seats per year across all classes between Tel Aviv and Heathrow. The company is also set to launch flights to Mumbai later this week and to São Paulo next year. It also expects to operate additional routes following the demise of British carrier Thomas Cook last month.
“Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic started to grow again,” said Weiss, who assumed the position of CEO earlier this year. “It happens to be that Tel Aviv is such an important market. Israel is growing, it’s a tech hub. We feel we have a lot to bring.”
Emphasizing the importance of understanding the company’s customers, Weiss said he sent cabin crews to highly Jewish populated areas of London to understand their future clientele and the importance of kosher food.
“The first of our growth routes is Tel Aviv,” said Weiss. “We have already taken 14,000 passengers back and forth from Tel Aviv and London, and beyond. The load factor is pretty good, exceeding our expectations.”
Branson, an outspoken critic of Brexit, also used the opportunity to express his regret over developments in his home country, describing Britain’s departure from the European Union as the “saddest thing that has happened to our country and to Europe since the Second World War.”
“It has done enormous damage to companies, to jobs, to the money in people’s pockets,” he said. “If there is a second referendum, it looks like people realized that they were misled and would vote conclusively to stay in Europe. I would certainly recommend that this is how they should vote. If that happened, we would see the pound roaring back up. It would be happier days all round.”