Virgin Hotels' Vegas plan: Make a splash on pool party scene

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The Hard Rock Hotel is home to the wildly popular Rehab pool party.
The Hard Rock Hotel is home to the wildly popular Rehab pool party.

When Virgin Hotels reflags the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel & Casino next year, the resulting product will continue to be atypical by Las Vegas standards.

Virgin Hotels, which debuted with its Chicago hotel in early 2015 as part of Richard Branson's umbrella of Virgin brands, will make the property's revamped pool areas a focus, will redesign guestrooms into two-section "chambers" and will include lots of splashes of its signature red throughout.

While most of its food and beverage plans are yet to be determined, the hotel, as in Chicago, will include a Commons Club, which is a rather low-key restaurant during the day and a nightclub after hours.

"We just liked the layout," Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal said of the Hard Rock. "The pools are really the focal point of the resort. We were really looking to create a destination-resort feel."

Virgin Hotels, along with Juniper Capital Partners and Fengate Real Estate Investments, acquired the Hard Rock from Brookfield late last month and said "hundreds of millions" of dollars would be spent on upgrades, though the company didn't disclose the acquisition price.

The Hard Rock, which will remain open during the renovation, opened on Paradise Road about a mile east of the Las Vegas Strip in 1995 with Pamela Anderson, Tommy Lee, Jack Nicholson and George Clooney in attendance. With Weezer, Duran Duran, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, B.B. King, Billy Idol and Seal playing musical sets at the event, the hotel put much of its focus on the rock 'n' roll memorabilia that's long been synonymous with the brand and on to the pool scene.

With 1,504 rooms and a 60,000-square-foot casino, the hotel is also smaller than many of the hotels found on the Strip.

For Virgin, the acquisition and rebranding represents by far its most aggressive plans since opening its Chicago hotel three years ago. Among that hotel's amenities, its rooms were divided by a sliding door into one section for sleeping and another that includes the bathroom and a mirror-and-vanity setup.

The Chicago hotel also notably offered goods in its minibars at prices that were similar to those in nearby convenience stores instead of marking them up substantially, as most other hotels do.

Still, Virgin has not opened any properties since then, though it is adding a hotel in San Francisco later this year and, simultaneous with the Las Vegas opening, will be debuting hotels in Dallas and Nashville in 2019.

Leal said Virgin will bring in an experienced casino operator to oversee the gambling operations. He added that the hotel will feature "lots of high-profile food and beverage operators," though he declined to offer details.

Regardless, the hotel's relatively (by Las Vegas standards) small size and off-Strip location makes sense for a brand looking to create a presence on its own terms, said Jeffrey DalPoggetto, a travel agent with Travelwize, which is part of Virtuoso.

"Some people go to Vegas and they're not looking to be right on the Strip" said DalPoggetto, who has booked clients at the Virgin Chicago. "They just want to be a little removed, where you don't have a million people in three blocks. I think it's a brilliant move on their part."

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