How Virgin Holidays created the holiday spirit

Back in January 2017, Virgin Holidays did something no-one would expect of a travel agent – they created their own bottle of rum.

Aiming to bottle the very essence of being on holiday, they enlisted IBM’s Watson – the world’s most intelligent super computer – to analyse the thoughts and feelings of more than 15 million holidaymakers. These emotions were matched to thousands of rum flavour descriptors, which informed the one-off rum recipe. We caught up with Kelly Grindle, PR Lead, to find out more…

Where did the idea to create The Virgin Holidays Spirit come from?

The PR team was presented with a challenge – how do you come up with a creative way to drive footfall into retail stores over the sale period? The answer was to develop a once-in-a-lifetime gift with purchase; The Holiday Spirit. We gave one of these bottles away to everyone who booked a Caribbean holiday over the last weekend of our sale – it helped our customers look forward to their incredible experience and helped build anticipation and excitement between their point of booking and their actual holiday

On holiday many people immerse their senses in sights, sounds and tastes that are new and exciting – is this the sort of memory you wanted to evoke when people tried the rum?

Holidays aren’t a tangible product – they are an experience. We adopt that philosophy in all of our PR campaigns and outreach, really driving home the concept of experiential marketing. If we can invoke memories of a particular sight, or sound, or taste – they’re likely to generate a sense of goodwill and happiness, reminding customers of the previous good times they’ve had with us.

The spirit was created with the help of both IBM Watson and rum expert Ian Burrell – how did the two work in tandem?

Plainly speaking, we wanted the rum to taste good and while we could trust a super computer to develop a scientific recipe there is no substitute for taste! IBM Watson came up with the key ingredients, and then we used Ian (a good old fashion human) to finesse the finished product so it tasted delicious – perfect for the rum cocktails you can enjoy in the Caribbean

What did the process teach you about how flavours can be matched with emotions?

IBM’s leading artificial intelligence platform, Watson, assessed the social media posts of over 15 million holiday makers to determine the predominant emotions felt on a holiday – unsurprisingly they were all positive such as happy, excited, curious, adventurous and telexed. Watson then analysed 5000 rum recipes and reviews and matched the use of those words to flavours.

What do you believe is the most powerful sense when you’re on holiday?

Each holiday is unique and personal, so it is difficult to say. It could be the shrieks of excited holiday-makers as a roller-coaster whizzes past them in Orlando, the taste of jerk chicken and rum cocktails in the Caribbean, the visual spectacle of the bright lights in Vegas, or the feeling of the sun beating down on your skin in Dubai. For me personally, it has to be “sight” – there are some breath-taking views that make you pinch yourself, from the savannah of Africa to the sunset in Antigua. There is plenty of the world that’s worth getting out there to see!


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