Richard Branson’s space tourism business might be booming—Virgin Galactic has sold 100 more tickets since August despite a steep price increase—but the rest of his Virgin travel empire is still grappling with the impact of COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, Branson has sold more than $1 billion of Virgin Galactic stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, to save his travel empire.
Last week, Branson offloaded 15.6 million of Virgin Galactic shares at $19.25 apiece through a company he controls called Virgin Investments Limited, according to an SEC filing on Monday. The stake represented about 6 percent of the space travel company.
The proceeds will be used to support Virgin Group’s “portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that continue to be affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a Virgin spokesperson told Observer, “in addition to supporting the development and growth of new and existing businesses.”
Earlier this year, Branson sold a total of $450 million worth of Virgin Galactic shares in two transactions in August and April. In 2020, he cashed $500 million of the space company’s stock.
Branson, 71, remains Virgin Galactic’s largest shareholder with a stake worth nearly $600 million.
Another key Virgin Galactic shareholder, Social Capital founder Chamath Palihapitiya, who helped take the company public in 2019, in March sold all of his personal stake in the company, worth about $213 million. Palihapitiya said he plans to redirect the money “into a large investment towards fighting climate change.”
In July, Branson and five Virgin employees, including two pilots, flew to suborbital space in a VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, marking the first fully crewed Virgin Galactic flight. Shortly after the flight, Virgin Galactic resumed ticket sales and hiked up price from $250,000 to $450,000, citing strong demand.
To date, the company has received more than 700 reservations. It expects to fly paying customers to space three times a month by 2023.