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Branson celebrates Cancun service, lambasts APD

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Virgin Atlantic in CancunWhat a stylish guy Richard Branson is. To celebrate the recent launch of Virgin Atlantic's twice-weekly roundtrip service between London Gatwick and Cancun, airline president Branson stepped off the 747-400 in Cancun in full Mexican attire, including a very large black sombrero.

Branson, holding Alexandra Burke in his arms (the female winner of the UK X Factor British TV music competition), was flanked by two Virgin flight attendants, waving the Mexican and U.K. flags. A mariachi band, of course, serenaded the crowd.

Branson and his entourage vacationed at the Royal Hideaway Playacar resort in the Riviera Maya, visited Tulum, explored Chichen Itza and swam with whale sharks, to the delight of Mexican tourism officials.

"Mexico holds a special place in my heart. Cancun is one of the top long-haul leisure destinations for U.K. travelers and as a market leader in this area, we're pleased to add this route to our network," Branson said.

Virgin Atlantic estimates that the new route will deliver approximately $25 million in tourism revenue to the Cancun market each year, based on traveler numbers and the average price of a two-week stay.

Branson also took time from his lavish celebrations to lambast the British government's Air Passenger Duty (APD), a heavy passenger tax levied on outbound flights from the U.K., which he described as a "disgrace," according to London's Daily Mail.

"This suffocating tax has rocketed way out of control. Years of above-inflation increases have hit passengers hard, are hitting the economy hard and are impeding our recovery from the recession," Branson said.

He estimated that a family of four traveling from the U.K. to Cancun now pays approximately $504 in APD fees on top of the price of the airline tickets.

"It is a disgrace," Branson said.

To highlight how "suffocating" the APD is, Branson is paying the tax on flights to Cancun for Virgin Atlantic tickets purchased on July 14 and 15 for travel from the U.K. to Cancun between Aug. 28 and Dec. 5 and from Jan. 1 to March 13, 2013.

— Gay Nagle Myers 

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