Timeframe: When Richard Branson planted a British flag on Dubai's World Islands

The British billionaire launched Virgin Atlantic's Dubai-London flights in his own inimitable style

Sir Richard Branson plants a UK flag into the sand on the World Islands in Dubai, on March 29, 2006. Getty Images
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Eighteen years ago, British billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson arrived at the World Islands to announce Virgin Atlantic’s first flight between Dubai and London.

Wearing a suit covered in British flags, he was flanked by two cabin crew from the airline as they posed next to a red telephone box, which used to be a familiar sight across the UK.

Construction of the World Islands project began in 2003. It was to be a collection of man-made islands that together formed the shape of the world map. Off the coast of Dubai, and between the two Palm Island projects, the World Islands represented a new and exciting megaproject for the emirate.

Branson chose to inaugurate the flight on the island representing England, to show the strong relationship between the UK and the UAE.

There are seven sets of islands in the project, representing the continents. Each island is given a name to symbolise its part of the globe.

But the project has undergone several changes. Today, the biggest development is on a $5 billion project called The Heart of Europe, on the islands representing Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Main Europe, Switzerland and Monaco.

The project is led by The Kleindienst Group, with the first property opening last year, the Cote d'Azur Monaco Hotel. Properties that have opened on other islands include The Island beach club and Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort.

When completed, The Heart of Europe will have 16 hotels as well as “palaces” with private beach access, The Kleindienst Group said.

Back in 2006, before he headed to World Islands, Branson arrived in Dubai in his inimitable style. Landing at Dubai International airport on an Airbus A340-600, he wore a kandura and stood on top of the plane’s wing with models and posed for pictures.

Virgin Atlantic entered the market with four weekly flights from London to Dubai. Branson said at the time that he hoped Virgin Atlantic would earn 10 per cent of the market share and said his biggest competitor was British Airways.

Virgin Atlantic would continue its operations to Dubai until March 2019. The explanation for stopping the route was that it was no longer economically viable.

Last year, Virgin Atlantic announced flights to Dubai were to resume and would run seasonally from October to March, a period when some in Britain seek to escape the gloomy winter.

“I’m thrilled to be returning to Dubai – a destination we know our customers and people love [for] its inviting climate during the cold UK winter,” said Rikke Christensen, vice president of network and alliances at Virgin Atlantic.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 6:01 PM