Sir Richard Branson, long one of the most visible faces in the UK tourism sector, has topped the travel entrants on the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List.
Revealed over the weekend, Sunday Times research placed his fortune at a staggering £3.085 billion – a 19 per cent increase on last year.
This makes him the 19th richest person in the UK, according to the Rich List.
But when Branson’s vast range of assets is examined it becomes clear where the fortune is generated. As chairman of Virgin Group, the entrepreneur sits atop an empire offering everything from commuter trains across England to trips into space.
Perhaps most famous is Virgin Atlantic, the international carrier based at London Heathrow Airport, but Virgin Group stretches to include everything from Virgin Charter, a private jet online marketplace, to Virgin Experience Days, which specialises in corporate and consumer events.
Branson is now the 19th richest person in the UK
Virgin Holidays has also been generating headlines recently, having been recognised as the Caribbean’s Leading Tour Operator by the prestigious World Travel Awards last year.
Around the world, Virgin Group holdings also include stakes in AirAsia X, Air Nigeria, Virgin Blue and V Australia, while Virgin Limited Edition, an exclusive hotel operator, offers everything from ski holidays to a luxurious Catamaran for Caribbean charters.
However, it is Virgin Galactic which has been the top priority from Branson for the past couple of years, with the space-tourism venture expected to take its first passengers into orbit in 2012.
With so much success, it can be easy to forget Branson also faces challenges.
Virgin Group, for example, is presently assessing options for flagship Virgin Atlantic as the carrier continues to see market share eroded by larger flag-carriers.
Though, with the consumers returning to the travel sector in the UK, few would bet against Branson improving his position on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2012.
Ryanair chief executive Micheal O’Leary is one of the most flamboyant faces in the UK travel sector
Sunday Times Rich List
Travel has, however, also created a number of other millionaires in the UK.
Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman, for one, is ranked as the 134th wealthiest person in Britain with £570 million, up from £520 million last year.
He is just a few places behind the Walker family, who have a £113.5 million stake in Flybe, and are accordingly ranked as the 128th richest in Britain with £600 million in the bank.
Simon Nixon, who recently announced the closure down of Simonseeks.com, is ranked 194th with improved wealth of £68 million to £412 million.
The families of Peter Harris and John Cook, who are behind privately owned Butlins, Haven and Warner Leisure Hotels parent Bourne Leisure, are estimated to have £400 million and £330 million respectively.
Also on the list is Ryanair chief executive Micheal O’Leary, who has used a mixture of business acumen and loudmouth theatrics to generate a fortune of £338 million.