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Richard Branson claims Virgin America would fly to Branson from San Francisco in a plane named “Jolene” to honor Dolly Parton and the Dixie Stampede.Photo courtesy VIRGIN.COM
Richard Branson claims Virgin America would fly to Branson from San Francisco in a plane named “Jolene” to honor Dolly Parton and the Dixie Stampede.

Photo courtesy VIRGIN.COM

Branson CVB teams with Richard Branson for apparent prank

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The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau appears to have helped stage an apparent prank with Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, according to a city of Branson official.

This morning, Richard Branson published a blog post on Virgin.com stating the group’s U.S. operations would move to Branson. The post follows a March 16 claim that Richard Branson is a distant relative of the city’s founder, Reuben S. Branson.

City of Branson Director of Economic Development Garrett Anderson said the “CVB and chamber are the ones who are really behind all the communication with Virgin.”

“We’re really excited about it. That’s my official line,” Anderson said with a laugh, referring questions to new Branson chamber President Jeff Seifried, who could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley appears to be in on the joke. In an accompanying YouTube video, she speaks to the “news,” with an ExploreBranson.com watermark posted beneath.  

“We’re incredibly excited about Virgin’s move to Branson. We’re a family-friendly city known across America as one of the top places to vacation,” Presley says in the video.

Among claims in the post this morning, the billionaire said:
  • Virgin America would fly to Branson from San Francisco in a plane named “Jolene” to honor Dolly Parton and the Dixie Stampede;
  • Virgin Hotels would develop its next property in the city;
  • Virgin Limited Edition would offer “exclusive wagon trails” with its next luxury property in Branson;
  • Virgin Produced would film its next feature in the city;
  • Virgin Active would introduce a Branson-themed gym where customers can toss hay bales and roll wagon wheels;
  • Virgin Holidays would offer packaged deals to the city; and
  • Virgin Pure would “ensure that the entire water supply throughout Branson is triple-filtered and purified to make it healthy for all.”
This morning, Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk declined to discuss the validity of the seemingly satirical blog post, and would only comment on the dual flight promotions between the airport and the airline.

“For all of our Branson AirExpress flights today and tomorrow, anybody who calls our Fly Branson communications’ center or Branson AirExpress call center can receive $10 off a round-trip ticket,” Bourk said. “If you go to VirginAmerica.com and mention ‘Branson,’ you can get 10 percent off any Virgin America flight nationwide.”

When asked if Bourk was concerned about blowback from the community by those who thought the news was real, he said, “Take a look at Richard’s post. I don’t have anything to add.”

In the comments on Richard Branson’s blog post on Virgin.com, a statement from FlyBranson and Bourk appears.

“In response to Virgin America announcement: ‘While we are obviously flattered that Richard Branson wants to fly his planes to #Branson, #MO Explore Branson, he might have to wait in line. I have my staff looking into gate availability, but it may be tough given Virgin's aggressive service rollout. In the meantime, we are anxious to see what incentives Virgin America can offer the airport and the community.’” -Jeffrey Bourk, Executive Director of Branson Airport

Bourk recently told Springfield Business Journal “several major carriers” are interested in the struggling airport, which recently lost Southwest and Frontier airlines. The Taney County Commission last week approved $500,000 in risk abatement funds to help attract a carrier to the airport.

Richard Branson is known for his fondness of April Fools’ Day. According to a Business Insider article - which mentions this morning’s blog post - a prank on a former business partner once got the billionaire arrested.
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