In May, Hard Rock International (HRI) marked a significant milestone for the company: the opening of the brand’s first New York City hotel. The newly built Hard Rock Hotel New York in Midtown Manhattan joins a portfolio of 253 owned/licensed or managed Hard Rock Hotels, Casinos, Rock Shops, Live Performance Venues, and Cafes spanning 68 countries. On the day of the property’s grand opening event, which featured performances by John Legend, DJ Cassidy, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, and more, LODGING spoke with HRI Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO, Jim Allen, about this latest opening and the brand’s strategic plans to grow its footprint, particularly in gateway cities and other urban destinations.
How long has the Hard Rock Hotel New York been in the works?
Back in 2006, we announced buying the Hard Rock brand on a global basis and I identified a hundred hotel sites where I felt the brand could expand its hotel division. Clearly, New York City was one of those. We actively started looking in 2010-2011 after the recession. We’ve looked at dozens of locations through the years and came upon this location in 2015-2016—and here we are today at the grand opening.
What does this milestone mean for the brand as a whole?
We’re very excited about this brand-new construction in Midtown in the international gateway city of New York and the quality of the product—this is truly in the upper-upscale category of hotels. It fits into a category that’s not stuffy and at the same time offers luxury, but also is fun and has an amazing entertainment venue that will create all kinds of interest, both on the celebrity and music [fronts].
What’s your outlook on the New York City market?
The good news for us is the Hard Rock brand has been successful and we believe it will continue to be long-term. This is our 50th year; our growth in the last 10 years has been astronomical. We recognize that international travel has yet to come back to its full expectations in New York City. Hopefully, that’ll do so over the next one to four years. We’re looking for that tide to rise and we’ve positioned this product to be successful in that environment.
What are your plans for expanding the brand further?
We have another 30-plus hotel deals that are done and probably 90-95 percent of those will open sometime in the next three to four years. When we look at cities—like Nashville, just opening in Madrid, and the opening in New York—we love to focus on those cities that have that international cache, but we certainly look in the other markets such as Memphis or Kansas City. And we look at the verticals—whether it be the regional casinos, integrated casino resorts, the Caribbean, and freestanding hotels like the Hard Rock Hotel New York where there are many different verticals that help diversify the financial platform in order to have long-term success.
What challenges are you expecting in the year ahead?
I’m not an economist, so I cannot say there’s going to be a recession, but we are certainly preparing for an economic slowdown, both domestically and internationally. I think that’s part of a cycle, and sometimes these economic cycles become very challenging. This is going to really create additional stress on household income and budget, and we have to have compassion for those [who will be affected]. At the same time, it also creates other opportunities; we’ll try to focus on those to be a stronger company once this economic correction is behind us.
Right now, supply of materials is extremely challenging and the real estate boom that has occurred during COVID and since has created a real shortage of contractors. The construction industry has been doing very well. A leveling off of that will be helpful, and we’ve already seen a cooling off of the real estate market in certain geographic locations.
What is your vision for the future of this brand?
Hard Rock represents music on a global basis. It is the one language that all of us, in theory, should be able to go along with, whether it’s today’s music or music from 10 years ago or music from a hundred years ago. The mottos of the brand—”Love All-Serve All, Take Time To Be Kind, Save The Planet, and All Is One”—this is something Hard Rock has been representing for 50 years. I believe there are at least another 50 years in front of us.