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Virgin Hotels Las Vegas overhaul on track despite virus, CEO says

Updated April 14, 2020 - 8:04 am

After a farewell party weekend, the Hard Rock Hotel closed in early February to transform into a Virgin-branded resort.

The off-Strip property’s makeover is still on track — but Las Vegas’ financial lifeblood, the tourism industry, has collapsed around it.

Gov. Steve Sisolak last month ordered casinos and other businesses closed in Nevada to help contain the spreading coronavirus. He let construction keep going, deeming it “essential” alongside hospitals, grocery stores and others amid the outbreak.

The Hard Rock’s renovation is still on schedule, President and CEO Richard “Boz” Bosworth said, but the economy is in turmoil with record job losses, and there are still plenty of unknowns.

And while there are some commonalities between the current financial crisis and past ones, Bosworth said, “there has been nothing like this.”

Bosworth and partners, including flamboyant British billionaire Richard Branson, acquired the 1,500-room resort in 2018 for a reported $500 million. It is expected to reopen this fall as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Bosworth, who has said the overhaul will cost more than $200 million, spoke with the Review-Journal on Thursday to give an update on the project. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Have you slowed or stopped construction because of the fallout from the coronavirus?

We consider ourselves very fortunate that to date, and I do want to emphasize to date, we have had no disruption to our construction project or our schedule.

Do you think there could be disruptions given all the turmoil?

I see it more so with potential supply chains, which we watch very closely, and we certainly have contingency plans. There are so many unknowns it would be ignorant or naive for us to not wake up every day and have some level of expectation that there can be a disruption.

(Note: Bosworth said Monday that his group adjusted some construction sequencing in recent days because of supply deliveries, but he added it doesn’t affect the overall schedule.)

Have any aspects of the renovation changed?

No, with the exception that we are watching and trying to study every day what the travel patterns will look like when we open. An example may be, there could be an expectation that air travel will take a longer time to return than drive-in travel. Does that change customer demand and needs? We realize there’s so much that we don’t know, and there’s so much that the industry doesn’t know.

I imagine you were surprised by how quickly the virus turned the world upside down.

We consider ourselves extremely fortunate that we closed for a planned renovation ahead of it and didn’t have to deal with so many of the issues that the rest of the community had to deal with on such short notice. I think about the tasks we had to accomplish to close down the Hard Rock on Feb. 3, and I look at the rest of the community, how they did it in 18 hours.

When you had the party weekend to close the Hard Rock, do you remember being aware of this new virus? Had the coronavirus even crossed your mind at that point?

Yes, it had, we were aware. Many of the hotel companies in the U.S. were implementing protocols back in late January. What we were able to do to stay ahead was recognize the supply chains in China, and even in Italy, had been disrupted. We were able to move to manufacturers, for example, in Vietnam.

I want to emphasize that while we certainly feel blessed that we, to date, have not had a disruption to our scheduling, it’s very difficult to feel happy or excited about that when it’s such a devastation to an industry.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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