Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, opening March 25, is a dynamic rebranding of the former Hard Rock Hotel, which closed in February 2020. Travel Weekly Las Veg
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, opening March 25, is a dynamic rebranding of the former Hard Rock Hotel, which closed in February 2020. Travel Weekly Las Vegas editor Paul Szydelko interviewed Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of JC Hospitality, owner of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, on March 15. The conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: It’s been a long and winding road to the opening. How excited are you?
A: My level of excitement is beyond personal and professional excitement. We have 1,300 [of 1,453] returning employees from Hard Rock coming back to work. We’ve hired an additional 300 employees, and then we’ll have added another 400 team members over the next two months as our pool — what I call the backyard of the resort — continues to open. Even though we are opening during a pandemic and a public health crisis, we’re opening as Las Vegas is opening.
Q: What elements are you particularly proud of?
A: That would be like choosing which child you’re most proud of. Our restaurants, our food and beverage ecosystem, opens up onto a resort pool with outdoor dining, which is very different for Las Vegas. Guests are able to have the interaction between a cabana and a daybed and a chaise lounge and the ability to get food at Casa Calavera (Mexican food in the space previously occupied by Pink Taco) or Kassi Beach House (a coastal Italian restaurant, bar and lounge) or Night + Market (Thai street food) and have anything brought to them in one comprehensive resort experience.
We’ve increased our conference space by almost 30,000 square feet, which also includes a unique event lawn where Rehab [pool party] used to be. Not only does it allow us to advance our reach and market share into the event and conference business, the lawn allows us to become a leader in social catering, such as weddings and other events and allows us to have entertainment under the stars.
Q: Why did Virgin and JC Hospitality choose this off-Strip property to make their first foray in Las Vegas?
A: When I look at a business opportunity, I look at the highest and best use. I also look at what is the best mix and most profitable mix of sales for success. To build a full-service resort such as this in Las Vegas would cost about $1.5 billion. You can take a property that’s existing and transform it for considerably less. Therefore, you’re taking a lot of the economic pressure off of your operation by being able to build it more efficiently and more cost-effectively and then allow your operation the appropriate time to stabilize.
Even the elevators at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas have been reimagined. Photo Credit: Paul Szydelko
Why this property at 4555 Paradise? First of all, I love the location! We are a five- or six-minute cab or rideshare from the 50-yard line of the Strip We’re equidistant to the [Las Vegas] Convention Center. When conferences return to the city, which is obviously a lifeline of Las Vegas, we know that we’ll be returning. We’re a little over a mile to the airport. That allows us to capture not only tourist and convention business, but also local business.
Q: How much of a market differentiator is not having resort fees and parking fees? Is it a marketing ploy?
A: It’s not a gimmick; it is a policy. It’s going to be an operating procedure for us. It’s Virgin Hotels’ position throughout their properties that there’s no nickel-and-dime approach honoring our guests. Our guests are going to certainly pay for a wonderful guest chamber and our unique ecosystem of food and beverage. We appreciate that, but there’s no reason to charge more on top of what they would get for their normal resort experience.
There’s clearly a level of a marketing message that we want to get out, that there are no resort fees. We’re also a pet-friendly hotel; we don’t charge pet fees. Even our minibars in rooms are “street pricing”; they’re not at your typical hotel or resort market pricing. What you see is what you pay for, and there’s going to be no hidden little catches behind the scenes.
Q: The Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment-run casino will be the first Native American presence in the resort corridor. What does the partnership mean?
A: It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. But it goes deeper than that for us. If you look at the evolution of a casino-integrated resort, specifically in this town, it does take quite a while to build up the database, to build up that following. JC Hospitality is a very entrepreneurial organization. When you look at how do you compete with the MGMs, the Caesars/Eldorados, the Wynns or Sands of the world, who have been very established for many years, and we’re just starting out, it was to bring in an established operator to begin with.
The registration area of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Paul Szydelko
Our entire business plan is based on all-star operators. We have Mohegan operating the casino. [Curio Collection by Hilton] is the manager of the hotel. Virgin is the branding opportunity that we have on the entire complex. AEG will be managing the theater. There’s Hakkasan Group’s Casa Calavera, Nobu, the Morton family’s One Steakhouse [among others]. It becomes JC Hospitality’s job as owner and overall property manager to manage the all-stars, to take all the best that they brought to the property, including their database and their marketing reach, and ensure that we’re we’re working as one team with one goal and one voice.
Q: You had to delay your opening twice until economic conditions were better. What metrics are you most curious about aside from the obvious — vaccines and hospitalization rates?
A: We knew we needed to have at least 50% capacity [up from 25%] in the public areas for us to have the opening that we really wanted. The importance of that was the ability to bring team members back. To open and bring just a fraction of our team back seems very anti-climatic since we had a total recall for our employees. If they stayed to the end, they got their jobs back. They’ve been off and not working for a year.
Other metrics we’re watching very closely [include] entertainment. It’s no different than any other resort in town. Watching entertainment come back for us is extremely important. Our property has been built very much like a facility for a mini-music festival with our staging and our conference facilities and our theater (formerly the Joint). We have so many small entertainment venues as well in our ultralounges, whether it be Kassi Beach House and soon Money, Baby (a sports viewing and gambling experience).
Q: What if you’re wrong about demand? We’re all walking on a tightrope, it seems. And if we fall or walk backward at this time, it’s a scary precipice.
A: What’s important is to open the doors and open them safely. To let the community experience our project, even if it’s just Las Vegas, and get our employees back to work. That’s my primary focus right now. Open the doors, get people back to work, let the Las Vegas community who supported this resort as Hard Rock for 25 years experience the new transformation. And the rest will be consumer acceptance. And if that takes time, that takes time. We’re not going to sit with this beautifully transformed resort with the doors locked on it any longer. There’s no reason to, but we want to open safe and get people back to work.