Transforming the Hard Rock Hotel to the newly opened Virgin Hotels Las Vegas during a pandemic was not without its challenges, but some six months since it officially debuted in June to say the hotel has made an immediate impact would be an understatement.
According to Richard Bosworth, President/CEO, JC Hospitality, LLC—which acquired the Hard Rock Hotel in March of 2018—the property has outperformed the market and is expected to be in the low- to-mid-90’s in terms of occupancy by the end of this month and into the first quarter of 2022.
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas—which is also part of Hilton’s Curio Collection—actually held a soft opening last March after shutting down in February of 2020 for a comprehensive renovation and repositioning that reportedly cost roughly $200 million. Somewhat ironically, Bosworth noted, the entire Las Vegas hotel market would end up shutting down some six weeks later as a result of the outbreak of COVID.
Bosworth explained why despite being faced with 50 percent COVID restrictions—as well as substantial supply chain issues impacting the delivery of FF&E within the hotel’s restaurants, penthouses and swimming pools—the company felt a great deal of urgency to open the hotel in March.
“The reason we did a soft opening early on was because we wanted to assist in the reopening of Las Vegas, which was happening, and we wanted to be part of that. It was important to represent the new property. At the time we also brought 1,600 of our 2,000 employees back to the property and got them working again. So, these were all very important aspects that were really more community driven than they were opening a resort,” he said.
The property would host a Grand Opening in June when more of the project was completed, restaurants were fully opened and COVID restrictions had been lifted. Bosworth maintained that “the property just took off” in its first month of full operation in July reaching 120 percent market share in both occupancy and ADR (average daily rate).
However, the initial performance was short-lived as the Delta variant of COVID forced a wave of cancellations and postponements, particularly on the group side. Bosworth further described the ups and downs of the first several months.
“We went from this immediate jump of outperforming the market in July to then crashing in August and September. Then it was like a light switch turned back on again in early October, our advanced bookings and our short-term bookings went back through the roof and now we’re operating at extraordinary levels,” he said.
The redesigned property offers more than 1,500 rooms, suites and penthouses in three towers. The architectural design, interior design, lighting design, fixture design, and custom furnishings were provided by Rockwell Group. The upgrades included newly designed rooms; new bars and restaurants; a redesigned pool deck; a new exterior and landscaping; an expanded and redesigned casino floor; and upgraded and expanded event space.
With expanded meeting and convention space, the property now has 130,000 sq. ft of available space for events, both indoors and outdoors. The hotel also offers multiple entertainment venues, including The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, 24 Oxford and The Event Lawn. The new outdoor experience combines a resort, pool, day club, The Promenade and The Event Lawn.
In addition, the 60,000 sq. ft Mohegan Sun Casino—operated by Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment—represents the first tribally operated casino in Las Vegas. The food & beverage experience includes, but is not limited to, Todd English’s Olives, Kris Yenbamroong’s Night + Market, Nobu and Michael and David Morton’s One Steakhouse.
The hotel carries a desert oasis theme throughout featuring earth tones, plants and artwork depicting desert foliage, including Joshua trees, mountain landscapes and colorful sunsets. Bosworth emphasized that was very much by design.
“We wanted to recognize that it’s a journey. Las Vegas is a destination and we wanted to recognize the journey through the desert, and through the planet, to arrive here,” he said.
Bosworth also acknowledged the unique brand structure of the hotel being affiliated with both Virgin Hotels and Hilton, however, he insisted that it has not be an issue.
“We were all expecting there to be [conflicts], but it’s been a fantastic match. What has been great is that Hilton has embraced Virgin and Virgin has embraced Hilton and they have this wonderful relationship of working together. I think they both recognize that they bring something different to the table here. I congratulate and admire both Virgin and Hilton for figuring out how to do this together and it’s been seamless,” he said.
Finally, while Bosworth pointed out the property was acquired “to be transformed” and that most changes were more cosmetic than structural, he nonetheless touted the relatively rapid pace of development as well as the finished product.
“We knew what our plan was with our combination of Mohegan, Hilton and Virgin and the Hard Rock was the perfect box. So we knew that we would be able to transform the existing property. Although it had been transformed through four different segments of development over 25 years, the bones of this property were fantastic. The layout was great, the acreage was great, and it just worked very well for the transformation,” he concluded.