Marco Roca likes to roll the dice. When he emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in search of work, he arrived in Miami with $4,000 in his pocket, a prayer in his head and no contacts to network with. After selling his car for a little extra scratch, Roca opened a newspaper and began hunting for work. The classifieds led him to the Hilton Miami Airport, where he enrolled in Hilton’s leadership development program. He credits this experience as the linchpin that led him to positions at Wyndham Hotel Group, Hilton, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos and, ultimately, his current position as president of global development and chief development officer at Caesars Entertainment.
“Hilton’s program helped me learn every single area of the hotel business,” Roca said. “It was a crash course in total operations experience. From there I transitioned to a position in human resources before ultimately landing in development. I’ve spent my whole life there, I found my passion there.”
Signs of this passion were present in Roca’s earliest days. As a youth growing up in Mexico, Roca would take any opportunity he could to slip into a hotel's back-of-house areas, looking for secret places and trying to figure out how these buildings functioned. Today he says he is lucky he ever found work in Miami, but reminiscing on these earliest experiences it's clear Roca was always looking for a way into hotels.
These early experiences also explain why he cares so deeply about hospitality. Roca said he feels strongly that a clean room and a comfortable bed are truly the least a hotel can offer its guests, especially in today’s age of experiential travel. It’s a good thing, then, that last July he joined Caesars Entertainment, a hospitality company that is also one of the largest entertainment companies in the world.
“With the experiential economy, it’s no question that people are out there looking for more,” Roca said. “Disruptors are everywhere, like Uber, and they make everyone else improve in order to compete. We see ourselves as a disruptor in hospitality because we operate like an entertainment company, with varying degrees of service and culinary options as well.”
Right now Caesars has a large portfolio of properties positioned around the world, but the company’s presence in Las Vegas is in many ways its defining feature. Caesars operates nine hotels and 23,000 rooms in Las Vegas, and with that kind of weight comes economies of scale. The costs associated with management contracts, licenses and more are discounted and shared with Caesars’ partners, and Roca said each of the company’s casino hotels offers something different to someone else. In this part of the world, in this business, Caesars Entertainment is afforded the rare luxury of being all things to all people.
However, there is still room for improvement. Roca said he was brought on, in part, to find a purpose for 96 acres of land owned by Caesars located on and around the Strip. Much of this land is currently underutilized and most of it is vacant. According to Roca, dozens of developers have floated ideas to Caesars over the years, offering to turn parcels of this land into recording and video studios, upscale fairgrounds and more. But Caesars has held on to each and every acre, and now Roca is the one playing with it.
“We wanted to step back and go through master-planning exercises to select people to go behind the Strip and create something unique that Las Vegas needs,” Roca said. “We’re going to be making announcements about that this summer. Some of the most valuable real estate in the world is right here on the Strip, and we want to do it justice.”
Roca joined Caesars from Hard Rock International, where he learned the gaming side of the business—in his words, the last part of development that was a mystery to him. Now, Roca’s job also includes finding a place for new casinos in locations where gaming legislation is under review. He riddled off the names of destinations such as Japan, Brazil, Italy, Greece and Australia, all targets for future development at Caesars.
“This process takes years and years of hard work because government regulations are a behemoth to change,” Roca said. “The next Macau may well be Japan, so we are not willing to miss that opportunity.”
Roca’s ultimate goal at Caesars is to bring the concept of “Las Vegas” to the rest of the world. That means providing Las Vegas-quality entertainment, food, excitement and lifestyle experiences to other destinations in a consistent manner.
“Just as Uber changed the taxi industry, we are going to make optionality for guests a thing of the future,” Roca said. “We want to be a disruptor in a positive way.”
Roca also said Caesars is in a constant state of evolution, partly in order to innovate, partly because it has no choice. This state of flux is appealing to him, and it helps him come up with new ways to innovate out of necessity.
“When you run a systemwide occupancy of 92 percent year-round, that takes a toll on rooms,” he said. “We always have to refresh. It’s a constant, nonstop process to get it right and stay on message, and we’re always looking to reposition and improve our products.”
At the end of each day, Roca can tell he’s in the right place. To him, hospitality is a social business, and as a social person he thrives off of developing new partner relationships and rekindling old ones.
“After joining Caesars, I was reintroduced to a friend I haven’t seen since my days at Wyndham, and to reacquaint with them is very satisfying,” Roca said. “Honestly, I would do this for free.”