Big parties are back, declares Sir Richard Branson after a Las Vegas rager

June 23, 2021, 5:30 PM UTC

Sir Richard Branson attended the opening party for the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas last week, the fifth hotel in his growing portfolio of U.S. properties, and celebrated well into the night, without a mask in sight.

While the hotel officially opened in late March, COVID restrictions had prevented a large celebration until now.

“There were thousands of us all partying,” he told Fortune. “Nobody had masks on, and I think it’s fine. The rebellion [against masks] has happened, and everyone is getting back to normal now.” No proof of vaccination was required for guests.

Branson is far from the first to hold large, maskless events in recent weeks. The Foo Fighters reopened Madison Square Garden in New York City this weekend with a three-hour set for 18,000 people (proof of vaccination was required for entry). A Bitcoin conference in Miami that drew 12,000 attendees in early June did not require masks or proof of vaccination, though dozens of attendees reported that they caught COVID-19 after attending.

While hotels, restaurants, and airlines figure out how to navigate the “new normal” in a post-pandemic world, Branson says that vaccinated Americans are actively seeking a return to a pre-COVID normalcy. He’s seen an uptick in bookings. 

“Once people have been vaccinated, they seem to be coming out to party in a major way,” he said. “You know, we had Christina Aguilera performing last night. It was to a packed theater. Hopefully everybody was vaccinated in it. Nobody was wearing masks, everybody was having a blast. And the Virgin Hotel is throbbing with people. I think people are just so relieved to be able to protect themselves and get out and enjoy life again.”

Branson said his hotel team is working to make sure that everything is sanitized, but that Las Vegas is open and “there does come a time where if you’re a responsible person, you’ve been vaccinated, you should be able to get some normality back into your life.”

Just 48% of adults in Nevada have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and rates of infection are creeping up in the state. The state has seen a slight uptick in cases of the virus lately, with an average positivity rate of 3.9%.

The majority of casinos and hotels in the region dropped their mask mandates when the CDC announced in May that vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, and this week Resorts World plans to open a massive new casino on the Las Vegas strip with 3,500 hotel rooms and 117,000 square feet of gambling space.

The low vaccination rate and large unmasked and indoor crowds in Las Vegas have some worried about the new, deadly Delta variant of the disease, which is currently spreading in under-vaccinated areas.

Still, Branson is intent on bringing his portfolio of properties back in the United States, where, on average, vaccination rates are nearing 70%. His businesses, however, are still struggling in other countries where governments are still enforcing lockdowns and haven’t made the decision to reopen travel.

In Britain and the U.S., vaccines are now available to the entire population over the age of 18, but Virgin Atlantic can’t fly between the countries without passengers quarantining (though that may change soon). 

Late last year the British government rejected a request from Virgin Atlantic for an emergency cash infusion. The airline ended up cutting 3,500 staff jobs and postponed about £450 million in payments to creditors, while receiving additional funding from U.S. hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management.

At one point, Branson offered to mortgage his Caribbean island, Necker, for new investment cash. Virgin Group ended up raising money for Virgin Atlantic by selling shares of its space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.

“Just looking at the concert hall, I think it showed that the policy is a little bit antiquated and unadventurous,” he said. “I think that [governments] need to create a corridor between Britain and America where the vast majority of people have been vaccinated and let us get up and fly again.”

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