When you hear the phrase Hard Rock, you probably think of vibrant cafés rather than luxury hotels. And that is to be expected: with a portfolio of 121 high-energy, rock-themed cafés in almost 50 countries – including the UAE – Hard Rock Café has become one of the world’s most instantly recognisable leisure brands.
But in the United States, for some years now Hard Rock has also been synonymous with high-end, fashion-conscious hotels offering business travellers and tourists alike five-star accommodation with a distinctly rock ’n’ roll flavour.
Now Hard Rock International wants to make its chic hotel brand truly global, and the man charged with the task of changing popular perception is “Chief Hotels Officer” Trevor Horwell.
As a way of introducing the glitzy Hard Rock Hotel concept to the Middle East market, the company has recently signed up with Abu Dhabi-based developer Tasameem Group to build Hard Rock Hotel Dubai adjacent to one of the city’s upcoming business districts – Dubai Trade Centre District. Stretching to a height of 91 storeys, the hotel and leisure complex will have 350 guest rooms and suites, 100 serviced apartments, commercial offices and retail stores.
“In the US we’ve been very successful in introducing hotel prototypes through our casino, city and resort hotels in locations such as Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando,” explains 53-year-old Horwell.
“Each has become a world-class destination and, significantly, a hang-out for celebrities – the place to go and be seen.
“That celebrity component is important, because it provides amazing PR for the brand, which in turn generates more business. Our basic advantage – the thing that sets us apart from other hotel chains – is the distinctive guest experience we provide.
“We now want to take the hotel brand international. Hard Rock is known as a café company internationally, whereas in the US it’s also known for hotels – we need this international perception that we only do cafés to change. We see plenty of potential in the Middle East, and for us Dubai is the obvious starting place.”
With an initial investment of about Dh1 billion, the Hard Rock Hotel Dubai is scheduled to be completed “in the next three to four years” and is expected to become a popular haunt for local residents wishing to relax and dine in an ambience described in company literature as both “passionate” and “irreverent”.
After the opening of the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel recently, the bar in its first week took an average of $40,000 (Dh147,000) a night, Horwell says.
He expects about 80 per cent of food and beverage revenues at the Dubai hotel to be driven by the local community.
He says: “In Dubai, the hotel will be a world-class, iconic building and we want to emulate what we’ve done elsewhere here so that it becomes a brand statement for people to understand what Hard Rock is all about as a hotel brand.
“There’s a big enough pie here for everyone to flourish and we see it [Dubai] continuing to boom. The private sector is still flourishing, with more money going in all the time – and the infrastructure is there.
“We think that the leaders of Dubai are modernists, and we want to bring something new to the region that’s not already there.”
Hard Rock Hotel Dubai will contain all-day restaurants, destination dining venues, pool and spa facilities as well as 32,000 square feet of dedicated meeting and banqueting space.
Horwell says Hard Rock Hotels’ proven track record of appealing to business people drove the decision to locate the hotel close to the Dubai Trade Centre District.
“It will serve the financial district for commercial and residential purposes, but at the same time it will be an entertainment destination: it will be the place to go,” he says. “The great thing about the location is we’re right in the financial hub, which is going to be the next Wall Street.
“In the US, we’ve legitimised the brand to the corporate world. In our Chicago hotel, for example, we have PricewaterhouseCoopers, Apple and IBM delegations that regularly stay at the Hard Rock.
“We target a mixture of corporate, high-end incentive and leisure guests, and it tends to break down evenly among those three categories. In Dubai, we would expect a lot of visiting guests from America, Europe and the United Kingdom.”
Horwell says the Hard Rock Hotel brand will now be looking to establish itself in other markets in this region, starting with Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Egypt.
“We think we could go into several markets successfully in the Middle East region. We look at occupancy and room rates to decide where to go – I think in the next five years there will be a major tourism boom in Abu Dhabi.
“We’re working with some great investors, which is very important, and also the right designers because you have to deliver the right concept, one that fits the market. My challenge originally was to launch a hotel brand from a café brand: my next challenge is to launch it internationally.”
The Hard Rock story
The first café opened in London on June 14, 1971, and was an instant hit. Rock merchandise and memorabilia form a vital part of the business, ever since guitar legend Eric Clapton marked his spot at the bar by hanging his instrument on the wall. A week later, guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who sent his guitar bearing a note: “Mine’s as good as his. Love, Pete.”
The company now owns one of the world’s most extensive collections, comprising some 64,000 individual pieces. Artists who have performed at Hard Rock venues include the Moody Blues, Pantera, Sugar Ray, Godsmack and the Go-Gos.
Dubai’s Hard Rock Café, on Sheikh Zayed Road, was opened in 1997 with a live performance by Chuck Berry.
Hard Rock Hotels
Starting out from its two flagship Seminole Hard Rock Hotels in Tampa and Hollywood, Hard Rock International now boasts nine hotels internationally.
These are located across the United States in Las Vegas, Biloxi (Mississippi), Orlando, Chicago, San Diego, and at two Asian outposts – Bali in Indonesia and Pattaya in Thailand.
Hard Rock has strong ties with the celebrity world: American hip-hop stars The Black Eyed Peas were brought in to design one of the Rock Star Suites in the new San Diego hotel. The group also helped design the glamourous staff uniform.
Hard Rock hotels have their own “vibe managers” whose job is to maintain the right mood by directing the lighting, music and general feel of the hotel.
New hotel projects have been announced in Macau and Palm Springs, apart from Dubai.
Chief Hotels Officer, Hard Rock Hotels Worldwide
Before joining Hard Rock, Horwell spent 17 years with Hyatt International as regional head of development and operations.
He says: “I look at Hard Rock as similar to how we grew Hyatt, although it’s a very different offering. In the next 10 years, I’m hoping to have grown Hard Rock Hotels from two to at least 30.”