BACK ON THE TAPE: A rendering of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino planned for the Las Vegas Strip, which will convert the Mirage Hotel and Casino. (Courtesy of Hard Rock International)
Global expansion has accelerated since the Seminole Tribe of Florida took ownership
It’s no exaggeration to say that Hard Rock International has Disney-esque aspirations, not only when it comes to customer service, but also its place in the world of live entertainment.
The chain of music-themed hotels, casinos and restaurants was acquired from the Rank Group for nearly $1 billion in 2006 by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Hard Rock empire continues to grow by leaps and bounds of giant.
A number of major projects have been opened in recent years and even more ambitious projects await us.
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“We have a huge pipeline of projects,” said Joe Emanuele, senior vice president of design and construction for Hard Rock International. “We have just opened the Hard Rock Hotel Madrid (in Spain) and the Hard Rock Hotel New York. We have just opened Budapest (Hungary). Hard Rock International works largely with architectural firm Klai Juba Wald and structural engineers DeSimone.
Going forward, the company will open a temporary hotel in Bristol, Virginia in July and in two years will add a permanent hotel/casino in that city. A temporary Hard Rock Casino opened in Rockford, Ill., in November, still with plans to open a permanent hotel-casino there in two years, Emanuele explained.
It’s been a year since the company opened the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary, he said, adding, “It’s now the #1 casino in this state,” Emanuele said.
“We also converted our casino in Cincinnati this year,” he said. “We renamed that to Hard Rock Casino. We are going to extend this with a hotel.
Future openings include the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tejon in Bakersfield, California.
“We are planning a new integrated complex in Barcelona (Spain) and the same in Athens (Greece) and Mexico City,” said Emanuele.
“And last but not least, we have this little project on the Las Vegas Strip, which is converting the Mirage into a Hard Rock Hotel/Casino.”
The company reportedly paid more than $1 billion to buy the operations of the iconic property developed by Steve Wynn from Vici Properties, which owns the plot on which the Mirage sits.
The Mirage is to be completely renovated and the property rebranded with the addition of a guitar-shaped tower, like the flagship Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
“It’s going to change the face of the Strip,” Emanuele said of the Vegas development. “What we’re going to do there is so imaginative, so creative. It’s a beautiful design, a tower shaped guitar like you’ve never seen before.
The original Hard Rock Casino near the Strip in Las Vegas, which opened in 1995, closed in 2020, after being sold and rebranded as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas last year.
Emanuele acknowledged the company’s aggressive growth trajectory following the purchase of the brand by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
“All they’ve done is give us the tools and the financial wherewithal to take the brand to where it will be,” he said. “I believe that over time we will become the leading hospitality and entertainment company in the world. And in some ways, in our 50th anniversary year, we’re almost there.
Indeed, the company’s casino-hotel in Tampa, Florida, with 750 rooms, is the most profitable casino in the United States and among the most profitable in the world. The Tampa and Hollywood locations both underwent major expansions in 2019.
Not bad for a tribe that got into the gambling business with bingo halls in 1979.
“Since we are present in several countries and we are an international brand, it is good to associate. In New York City, our newly opened hotel (on 48th Street in Downtown Manhattan’s Music Row, near Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza), has been a calendar of more than five years. is materialized.
Working with a developer in New York, HRI researched a location for an international hotel before proposing the downtown site.
“It really took our superior range of four-star and above hotels to the next level, from look and feel, functionality, branding, implementation of memories very integrated,” Emanuele says, gushing. “The way we mark and create ‘Hard Rock Moments’ is largely through our memories.”
Souvenirs have grown in prominence and importance across different properties, he said.
“Years ago you used to put it on the wall like Applebees, now it’s fully integrated into the design,” he said. “When we work with designers, we say, ‘We’re a four-star plus brand and we’ll help you layer the brand.’
Some have tried to duplicate the Hard Rock aesthetic, Emanuele said, “But no one can create that musical vibe, that experience better than Hard Rock. That’s what sets us apart. The vibe is the music. You can have the worst day of your life, so to speak, and then you get in your car or walk into a setting where you hear music and a song that puts you back in the perspective of a memory, of a loved one, or when you were younger or whatever, it changes your whole perspective of the day. That’s the vibe we’re trying to create.”
Is there a limit to business growth?
“The brand actually works in almost every jurisdiction,” Emanuele said. “Because it’s music and it’s international, it works in any language, environment or culture, so there’s no end to that potential. However, we like to manage our way through portal cities. That’s where you get the biggest impressions, but we also have hotels in some of the smaller (markets), which are re-importing the brand because those people yearn to go to other areas and if you reinforce that everywhere and maintain the level of experience, then you will be able to manage and make those Hard Rock hotels or places where you want manageable and have the proper amenities.
He said whether the company chooses to build from scratch or repurpose an existing property in Hard Rock’s image has a lot to do with current economic conditions.
The pandemic has put a damper on some expansion aspirations, but with the worst of the contagion seemingly behind, there are “opportunities for renovations and conversions,” Emanuele said.
“When you do conversions, obviously you have to work them a little harder, but some of the older sites have different cultural aspects in different areas,” he said. “We actually like to maybe take an old hotel, layer it on our brand, but never lose its roots and it tells these amazing stories of maybe when it was built or people who visited it in some time whether they’re artists or not. So the blending, the layering of our brand over older features is unique. It’s about telling the stories and telling them right. And if you’re able to have the right budget to do a conversion, you can make that quite special, as well as a new build.
The game’s growth and legitimization has worked in the brand’s favor from a development perspective, Emanuele said.
“Gaming is a good base in terms of revenue, but we’re not just a game company,” he said. “We’re a fully fledged entertainment company and it’s all about DNA and music again. It’s not just about playing. We want people to have a good F&B experience, a good music experience and if you have the appetite and want to play, you can do that too.
Just like with his memories, there is a drive to make everything an authentic experience.
“We wouldn’t post anything that wasn’t real, that didn’t have a true story,” Emanuele said.
When asked if the current state of geopolitics was cause for concern about where and how the company invests, Emanuele said the answer was an obvious yes.
“We have a lot of European sites and the world are affected by things and sometimes we are,” he said. “We are cautious. We were looking at a potential development in Ukraine some time ago. This is currently not the case. During the pandemic, all of these different jurisdictions had different regulations. Some of our cafes have closed. They are all open now, fortunately, but we had to be very flexible and creative in our different locations, especially the cafes. New York was a different experience from Florida.