‘No tricks': Branson’s warning to help bushfire victims
Exclusive: Having survived one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes in history and experienced the devastating fallout, Sir Richard Branson has called on Australian insurance companies to fast track compensation to bushfire victims.
"Insurance companies must work quickly and not do their normal insurance company trick of delaying, delaying, delaying the payouts, because if you do not have the insurance money you can't start rebuilding," he said.
The Insurance Council of Australia told News Corp the estimated initial loss is $40 million, with 360 claims received. But with fires still raging throughout the country, this figure will increase.
In the wake of 2017's Hurricane Irma, Branson saw trees, houses and schools completely destroyed, communication networks knocked out and his own home on Necker Island, one of the British Virgin Islands, was severely damaged.
The billionaire Virgin Group founder also said Virgin Australia is working with the Salvation Army Emergency Services to assist by flying their team members to locations most in need of help.
"I know Virgin Australia are helping people get out of the situation without charging them and Virgin Australia is also helping get people into the situations to help," he said.
The airline is waiving any change or cancellation fees for guests impacted by the fires or unable to travel due to the fires.
Guests are also able to donate to the Salvation Army Emergency Services in Virgin Australia lounges and at boarding gates.
"We went through the worst hurricane in history two years ago … with these disasters it's wonderful how people rally around and help those people in distress and help get schools rebuilt," he said.
"I think those people who didn't have their house burn down [in Australia] need to have open doors to people who've been affected for businesses to try and find work for those who need work and help fundraise to get people back on their feet."
Branson is in Australia to launch his Virgin Voyages cruise ship with tailored package deals for Australians through Virgin Australia.
He hopped on a Sydney ferry yesterday to give commuters a taste of the VIP treatment to come on the ship.
"I've got a lot of friends in Australia, so any excuse [to come back].
"It's an adults-only experience, it will be the best place for partying it will be the best place for those who want to chill and there won't be young kids running around the ship.
"We've got a massive running track at the top of the ship with incredible views … so you can party all night, eat all day and then you can run it off in the evening."
His first cruise ship, Scarlet Lady, is set to sail in April 2020 and some of its crew will include some newly-recruited Australians from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australians will be able to fly from each eastern state with Virgin to the US, where they will board the cruise ship in Miami and go to destinations in the US, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.
"If you move the clock forward maybe three years we may well have a ship operating out of Australia," he said.
"The next ship is going to be somewhere in Europe, but if we put a cruise ship here it'll be domestic and the islands around."
Virgin Voyages' CCO Nirmal Saverimuttu added: "Australia can be a real big market for us, it's not unimaginable it can be one of our source markets, Australians love to travel, they love experiences."