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Home / Business / Sir Richard Branson on Virgin's takeover of the Hard Rock Vegas Hotel: It's being "tasteful, funny"

Sir Richard Branson on Virgin's takeover of the Hard Rock Vegas Hotel: It's being "tasteful, funny"



Richard Branson arrived in Las Vegas on the first Virgin Atlantic nonstop flight from London in 2000 as Elvis Presley. In 2007, he seceded from the Palms Tower to promote Virgin America . His appearance in 2010 was even wilder as he drove (and crashed) a jet-ski with a flight attendant who shot a bell-shot over Bellagio's lake to a podium where he "directed" the orchestrated fountains. (He made it to the podium and entered in a good mood.) The flight attendant was a little less amused.) There have been two burning questions recently at Las Vegas: 1

) Does Virgin Hotels really buy the Hard Rock Hotel and 2) What will Branson do? 19659002] do this time? The answer to the first question is, officially, yes – like this morning (they'll run it as Hard Rock for this year, then big renovations will start in 2019, during which time the hotel will stay open). And to the latter, as Branson told us earlier in the week, he's still looking for ideas. Here is our conversation with the CEO of Branson and Virgin Hotels Raul Leal.

The interview was edited for length.

What did you think about this Hard Rock property? Did you like it's not on the Strip or that it's already a rendezvous?

Raul Leal : Yes to the above. We've looked at different locations in Las Vegas for the last six or seven years since we launched Virgin Hotels as a brand, and we always wanted to make sure we had a destination and a place we could really work out and do the way of the maiden especially. And we've always loved the building – it has an amazing layout and Hard Rock is a cult brand. We love being off the strip because we believe that we will continue to serve the people who go to the Strip, but also provide local care, which is a big part of our strategy.

You have a pretty eventful history in Las Vegas, so this was a natural next acquisition?

Richard Branson : Look, I wanted to make a hotel in Vegas for many, many, years, and we had many different designs for hotels, from scratch to a huge Virgin "V" at the beginning of the strip, with the hotel actually in the V, so people might think, "This is Vegas or Virgin" when they arrived in Vegas. My favorite for many years was the Hard Rock. It has been allowed to get a bit tired over the years, but it has fantastic employees and that is the absolute key. It takes a lot of money for it and we experiment with people in Chicago and we're just experimenting with people in San Francisco and we have pretty boutique places around the world – we think we willing to bring something back to this property.

Will there be a connection between Virgin Atlantic and the hotel? Special transport or a welcome zone?

RB : I think we will extend the runway to the front of the hotel and bring people directly to the hotel [Laughs]. Or you have a tunnel directly below it so that 747 can drop it off.

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Richard Branson has made a habit of taking swanky entrances to Las Vegas.

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Richard Branson has made it a habit to have swanky entrances to Las Vegas.

Courtesy Virgin Hotels

Hard Rock is best known for its Casino Will Virgin as a game hotel

RL : It will absolutely be a gaming hotel, and we will have a gaming partner that we will announce later.

Does the departure of big names like Steve Wynn from Las Vegas is influencing the way you think about your chance here?

RB : Hopefully it will help and not hinder that someone like me is the ultimate owner of it. Las Vegas is all about Personality, I know what Raul did elsewhere, and Chicago was named Best Hotel in America by Condé Nast Traveler Readers – and there are many beautiful details we'll bring here, you'll not i n Slot machines go as soon as you go to a virgin hotel. You make the hard rock, but we'll be tasty, fun, and we'll find the right balance there. I'm from the rock & roll business, and the memorabilia is something that fortunately comes with the hotel. It is unbelievable that I suddenly have a collection of wonderful rock & roll memorabilia. We even saw some old Virgin signs there, so I suspect they will somehow stay.

Speaking of memorabilia: Elton John's sequined Dodgers uniform from his 1976 concert at Dodgers Stadium is a favorite piece there. Are there pieces that you are most excited about?

RL : I would actually wear the Elton John costume myself, because that's my favorite. We will argue about it.

RB : We are excited! We need to find a way to make a difference if we finally use the Virgin brand and maybe try to kill myself again. So, if you have any ideas …


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