Hard Rock grows in Dominican Republic; teases further expansion plans

Late last week, Hard Rock International announced its second hotel and casino in the Dominican Republic, following up on the brand’s first-ever all-inclusive property in Punta Cana. When it opens in late 2017, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Santo Domingo will have 400 guestrooms as well as a 23,000-square-foot casino.

The city-center hotel, meant to complement the Punta Cana resort, is being developed in collaboration with the All Inclusive Collection, which runs sales and marketing efforts for many of the Hard Rock properties in South and Central America. The Collection will oversee operations for the hotel, while Hard Rock will operate the casino portion. The property will be owned by the Chapur family’s RCD Resorts, which owns the All Inclusive Collection. 

“The Dominican Republic is the region’s most visited country and continues to be the top performing destination in the Caribbean,” Nelson Parker, VP of casino development for Hard Rock International, said in a statement, noting that the country saw 19 percent of the Caribbean’s 26.3 million visitors in 2014. The visitor numbers have given the Dominican Republic’s hotels an 87 percent occupancy rate, he continued, boosting the country’s appeal for development. 

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Hard Rock’s Growth Plans
“We have an aggressive growth plan for the next five years,” Jon Lucas, EVP of hotel and casino operations for Hard Rock International, told Hotel Management. This hotel, the fifth with the All Inclusive Collection, is part of an ongoing strategic partnership with the operating company, he continued, noting two more hotels in the pipeline for Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. “We signed 10 deals last year,” he said. “We’re looking to double that in 2016.” 

Currently, Lucas said, Hard Rock is focusing its growth plans in South America, including Brazil, Paraguay and Colombia. “We’re working on several deals in those countries,” he said, adding that the company is also “exploring a variety of opportunities” in the Caribbean. “We have three projects signed and are looking at a few others.” 

Beyond the brand’s growth in South and Central America, Lucas said that the expansion plans are “a worldwide project,” not limited to any one area. Hard Rock has boosted its international business development team with representatives in Asia, EMEA, Latin America and the Caribbean. As such, recent deals have been signed in Berlin, Atlanta and Hartford, Conn. “We’re expanding the brand globally,” Lucas said. 

Frank Maduro, VP of marketing for the All Inclusive Collection, echoed that sentiment. “We’re looking to fill voids in the market,” he told Hotel Marketing. “We want All Inclusive Hard Rock Hotels where there are none, even where we might have a [non-all inclusive] hotel.” The brand, he said, is looking to add 4,000 new hotel rooms to its global portfolio over the next two years. 

Finding the Right Fit
Opening a casino in Santo Domingo was a “no brainer,” Maduro continued, as the city did not have any large-scale branded casinos. Figuring out what a destination needs is key to determining the right asset for the market. “What are guests looking for? What can the destination offer?” he asked rhetorically. “There are a lot of factors.”  

“The big thing we look for is airlift,” Maduro said. Consumer demand should already exist for a destination, and overall infrastructure needs to be in place to provide the kind of support a hotel or resort would need. “When that’s determined, we look for an oceanfront or a beach, and we make sure it’s easy to get to.” 

In terms of the upcoming Santo Domingo hotel, Lucas said that expanding in the city center—as opposed to a beachside resort—offered a good opportunity to expose the brand to a different demographic of travelers. “It’s a downtown situation,” he said. “It’s different than a resort experience. This one will be in an urban environment, close to a mall.” As such, he expects the hotel to attract business travelers and locals visiting the casino.  

“It’s a very transient destination,” Maduro added, “so there’s a lot of business there. We’re looking to provide a known high-end brand.” 

But while visitors may spend a week at a resort, city-center stays tend to be shorter—hence the need for Hard Rock to diversify its offerings with a casino and quick access to a shopping hub. In addition, he expects people to divide their vacations between the two Dominican hotels, creating a “multi-destination” experience. 

Looking Ahead
As the brand ramps up expansion, Lucas said that Hard Rock will explore whatever opportunities become available rather than pushing for any individual asset or focusing on any one region. “We are not limited to any one area as far as resort, hotel or casino development is concerned,” he said. “We'll explore all opportunities, and if the fit is good, we’ll jump.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to have a diverse portfolio that offers options to the brand’s followers. That said, he noted, company is “aggressively” looking to grow its hotel and casino division.