Since 1971, the Hard Rock brand has promoted a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle through its restaurants, live music venues, hotels and casinos. This month, it will unveil more than 80,000 new square feet of meeting and event space at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Previously able to host small meetings only, the hotel is now making a play for larger group business.
“We’re not dipping our toe in the water, we’re going right into it,” says Yale Rowe, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s senior vice president of marketing. “But it was customer-driven. We evaluated the business that was interested in us, but that we couldn’t accommodate, and said: ‘Obviously, our customer enjoys our facilities for nightlife and restaurants and wants to use it on the business side.’ We wanted to create that opportunity for them.”
In addition to a conference center, the expanded hotel will have a new, $60 million live music venue, The Joint (capacity: 3,000-4,221). The Killers and Paul McCartney are the headliners for the grand opening celebration; Carlos Santana will be the rock star in residence for 36 shows a year, beginning May 27. Nightlife venue Body English has a capacity of 862 people, 48 VIP booths and a massive dance floor. The four-acre poolside space will have beach and topless sunbathing areas. The expanded Hard Rock Casino will have private VIP poker rooms, and there will be six dining venues, including Nobu, a sushi restaurant backed by star Robert De Niro.
Lest planners fear there will be too many distractions, Melinda Speck, Hard Rock’s marketing director, points out the hotel is designed in a U-shape with two hotel towers. “The key is that you can silo groups according to what you desire,” Speck says. “If you don’t want to be a part of the casino and want people focused, we’ll put them in Paradise Tower so they can just go into their meeting space.”
Opening a new property at any time is fraught with tension. Opening while the industry’s been attracting negative attention and the economy’s in a recession makes it even more challenging. But Rowe is optimistic.
“We’re in a cycle now where it’s out of vogue to be high-end, because the perception is that you’re spending too much money,” Rowe says. “Hard Rock has been seen as more accessible than other properties in Las Vegas, because we never went to the extreme luxury level. It’s always been where you go to relax and enjoy yourself off The Strip. When times get really rough, people turn to things that are familiar, because they know what to expect.”
One thing groups expect from Hard Rock is something out of the ordinary, and they won’t be disappointed. Among the amenities available to planners are customizable “Higher Frequency” packages that bundle sound, snacks, lighting and décor in ways designed to enhance the meeting’s message and make attendees feel a certain way (e.g., creative or relaxed).
“You pick the focus and we’ll energize your meeting,” Rowe says. Inspired by the way Hard Rock handles its rock ’n’ roll stars, the Higher Frequency packages feature customizable “riders” as well as “shadows.”
“Riders are what we deal with every day when rock acts come through to play The Joint,” Rowe explains. “You know, where they ask for green M&Ms?” Speck adds, “The shadow is that person you can call at any time and say, ‘Do this for me.'”
Other amenities will include 1,520 rooms, three ballrooms, a sky-bar and a plexi-glass floor that can be laid over the pool to accommodate outdoor concerts. But the biggest attraction is probably Hard Rock’s celebrity clientele. During one night of a recent convention, attendees saw Kiss’ Gene Simmons holding a poker tournament, Motley Crue’s Vince Neil drinking in the lounge and Paris Hilton’s sister Nikki dining at Nobu.
“Whether people admit it or not, that’s fun,” Rowe says.