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Space Tourism:

Virgin Galactic - world’s first commercial operation

Prasanna Perera, Marketing and Management Consultant, Chartered Marketeer, CIM U.K.

Sri Richard Branson, the founder of the 'Virgin' empire has a long history of taking on conglomerates for the benefit of consumers. But it is the venture into space that is tapping into a much deeper human emotion.

In the history of global commerce, there are very few occasions where an entirely new product category is created. But Virgin is about to do just that. In the next year or so, Virgin Galactic is set to become the world's first commercial operation, offering daily flights to space. Space travel is an industry with huge potential and fortunes to be made. To-date, only about 518 people from 38 countries have flown into space. The projection is that by 2020, as many as 50,000 persons would fly into space every ear.

In June 2011, Virgin confirmed 'SpaceShipTwo,' Virgin Galactic's first passenger carrying spaceship, had completed two successful glide flights with 24 hours, making it the quickest turnaround time yet and proving daily flights are indeed a real possibility.

Demand for Space Flights


Prasanna Perera

Virgin has more than 440 deposits from customers or people it calls 'future astronauts' totaling USD 88 million in revenue. The ticket price for a return seat on SpaceShipTwo is USD 200,000!! There is a long waiting list of affluent consumers from China to America, including American actor Tom Hanks and Princess Beatrice. (First royal in space).

Virgin Strives for an Unique Customer Experience

The Virgin groups is synonymous for providing excellent customer service and experiences. Space tourism is no exception. In the Virgin style, the company is relentlessly focusing on providing a customer experience no one else has achieved.

The Virgin Galactic will be the ultimate example of that customer experience philosophy. What Human Needs and Desires does Virgin Galactic Hope to Satisfy?

In true marketing style, Virgin has identified the needs and desires of 'future astronauts.'

- Safety at all cost (No compromises)

- The desire to push boundaries

- To explore and to overcome challenges

To obtain a once in a lifetime experience, which is rewarding but risky (to some extent)

Marketing Strategy of Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo)

The experience of 'space' almost markets itself. The mystery, aura, tension, pride, risk etc., are all associated with space travel and tourism. The product is quite simply 'ONE PRODUCT.'

The pricing strategy is super premium pricing, after all, it is the most expensive seat on the planet! (USD 200,000). Distribution strategy is two-fold. Either purchase a seat 'on-line' or make a reservation with the Virgin Galactic ticket office. Communication is viral, both off line and online. The sheer experience that is expected is a fantastic topic for social media marketing (facebook, twitter, myspace, linkedin).

Customer Relations To a New Level

Virgin Galactic is also advancing customer relations to areas most global brands have yet to explore or even have not dreamt about. 'Future Astronauts' (customers), upon signing, are welcomed into what is possibly the world's most exclusive club with privileged access to all aspects of the project as it progresses. Buying a ticket also means invites to astronaut forums with Sir Richard Branson at his Caribbean Island home or his South African game reserve, to see first- hand new Virgin Galactic vehicles under development. All 'astronauts' are also given VIP invitations to media events, to mark major milestones.

Competitors

None at all at present, not even in the future horizon. However, Virgin is cautious. Virgin never worries too much about competitors, since they do things drastically different to their competitors. In this case, the stakes are very high (positives), as well as the negatives if things go horribly wrong. Sir Richard Branson is never a person to worry too much and believes that space tourism will be a mega hit!

A Clear Business Idea

Space tourism is a simple, clear business idea i.e. to take people on a journey of a lifetime outside the planet. One product, high demand, clearly defined customers and no competition. To add to it all, the concept of 'space' that almost markets itself. Will space tourism be sustainable Only time will tell.

“We love the fact, we are constantly making business decisions that have never been made before.”

(Stephen Attenborough, Head of Marketing, Virgin Galactic).

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