Jon Brown’s love affair with Mallorca burns just as brightly as his boss Sir Richard Branson’s. Jon first joined Virgin Hotels in August 1998 and was Operations Director for two years. He was appointed as managing director of La Residencia Deya in 2000 before returning as MD for Virgin Hotels in late 2001. His connections with Mallorca, both professional and personal, have remained extremely close ever since.
In fact, he and his wife first came to Deya in 1996 and were immediately captivated by the island - so much so that they now own a second home on the island, regardless of the fact that one of his responsibilities is to keep a close eye on the development of Sir Richard Branson’s new luxury hotel on the 700-acre Son Bunyola estate in Banyalbufar.
Jon, who was on the island last week to catch up with progress at Son Bunyola, said that Sir Richard is over the moon to finally be seeing his Mallorcan dream come true.
“It’s been 20 years in the making. We first embarked on plans to develop Son Bunyola and restore the main historic finca to its former glory two decades ago. Yes, we had some setbacks, but having been finally been given the all-clear to proceed by all of the local authorities, we can’t wait to open in June 2023.
“I have to say, despite there still plenty a lot of work to be done, it’s looking good. The building is amazing, it’s stunning and the whole project is so exciting for every one involved. The tornado which ripped through did not help but, surprisingly, the damage was rather limited. We didn’t lose too many of the olive trees, for example, and they are all being replaced.
“Obviously, due to the main property’s age, the building is very fragile, as is the whole estate, but we are treating it with all the love, care and attention that we can. We know the finca dates back to the 18th century but the history stretches back to the 15th or 16th century, and that’s very special. It makes the property unique and that is why, when it is open, it will sit perfectly with the Virgin Limited portfolio of luxury properties all over the world from Morocco, Kenya, South Africa and Switzerland to Necker Island and its neighbouring Moskito Island in the Caribbean.
“I know Richard is very emotional about the project, he has fought very hard to get this off the ground - he was determined to see this project come to life and it’s finally happening.
“And every day there’s a glorious surprise. Recently, the builders discovered some original beams dating back centuries. These have been carefully restored and will form part of the main square building. In fact, we’ve found, and will no doubt continue to find, many old original artefacts and pieces, so that the hotel will in a way be a museum piece, charting the history of the area and the Tramuntana mountains.
“In keeping with Richard’s philosophy of sustainability and community, all of those involved with the project have been hired locally, and that will be very much the theme once the hotel is open. The emphasis will be on recruiting local staff, using local produce and promoting all the glorious things Mallorca has to offer.
“We have the wonderful support of the Council of Mallorca, who cannot wait to see the main building restored to its former glory, and we also have the backing of the local communities in Banyalbufar and Esporles. We intend to do everything we can to return their support and help the two communities in a controlled and sustainable way.
“The hotel will no doubt serve to inject some welcome funds into the local economy and also help young people find work instead of having to move to Palma or even off the island. It’s a very inclusive project.
“We’ve had the three villas operating on the estate for a number of years now and they continue to be extremely popular. Once the Covid restrictions were eased and they were able to reopen, they have all been full, so that’s very encouraging. Many of the guests have been excited to see the main property slowly being restored and brought back to life.
“We are working on the idea of having 28 rooms in the main finca. The atmosphere, like in all of the Virgin Limited properties, will be relaxed and informal, very personal. We may well have some of the most luxurious properties in idyllic locations around the world, but we’re not jackets and ties for dinner.
“Those who know La Residencia will know that our properties have a soul and that the focus is very much on the client’s well-being and needs. More often than not, that is to have a fantastic experience while on a relaxing holiday, and that is what we will offer and provide at Son Bunyola.
“Obviously, we have to make sure that we offer value for money; we’re not cheap. But I have a great team, not to mention the boss, and we all work extremely hard in providing a great product. During the pandemic, we all dedicated a great deal of time and effort to the upkeep of our properties, looking after the staff and, more importantly, our clients, many of whom return to our properties year after year.
“That said, since we’ve been able to reopen with the easing of the Covid restrictions, we’ve noticed a marked surge in domestic clients. In the past, they have not come to our properties, so that’s very encouraging and very pleasing. We’ve been able to reach out more to the local communities and bolster domestic relations which has been very positive. And we intend to do just the same in Mallorca.
“Yes, it’s going to be a new and different product on the island and we hope that it benefits Mallorca as a whole. The island has still got so much to offer but it needs to be managed carefully. Due to our experience gained over the years across the globe in some even more fragile locations, we have the expertise and the know-how.
“Son Bunyola is going to nestle between the mountains and the sea in a UNESCO heritage site, so that has to be respected. But that’s no problem for us because we believe in and promote sustainable tourism.
“We have a great empathy for project and its environment and we are not rushing things. In fact, June 2023 sits very well with us because international tourism probably will not return to anything like it was until then, so time is on our side to make sure everything is perfect.”