SMALL TALK

Josh Littman of Hard Rock Hotels on UK expansion and updating the brand

By Hannah Thompson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Rock on: Josh Littman, EMEA director of Hard Rock Hotels

Related tags: London

As Hard Rock Hotels announces its entry into the UK with a renovation of the 900-bedroom former Cumberland Hotel in central London by 2018, we speak to Josh Littman, EMEA director of development for Hotels & Casinos at Hard Rock International, about the group’s wider expansion plans, keeping a long-established brand relevant, and the impact of Brexit

The Hard Rock Cafe has been in London since 1971. Why only open a hotel now?

We've always been looking at London, but it's a tough market. It's one of the main global cities in the world, and it's key to have a presence here. It's always been one of our main priorities to put something in London, but it wasn't until a few years ago that we decided to start focusing more on this region. So it's been a mixture of competition and resources. It Also, it’s a nice tie-in to announce the first London hotel, exactly 45 years after the first Café opened here.

The loud, party atmosphere that the Cafes are known for may not always translate to a hotel. How do the hotels align with that image?

When people go to a Hard Rock Cafe, they're there for one meal, a short period of time, and they expect to have the full experience. In the hotels, it's different, people are there much longer, maybe on business or with family or friends, so they need different zones. We can't always have music blaring, but music is the strand of DNA running through everything: maybe just in the design of the door handles in the shape of musical instruments, for example, or the rock memorabilia on the walls.

Does your planned 2018 renovation of London’s The Cumberland hotel as a Hard Rock Hotel signal a wider expansion within the UK and the capital itself?  

It will make it easier, certainly. We really wanted to have London in our portfolio for a long time. We did actually sign a deal in Glasgow, a year or so ago, and we're trying to get that moving. We have looked at Edinburgh, and Manchester too, and we're always open to other opportunities around the UK. But nothing definite yet. Globally, we’re aiming to get to 100 hotels, and we’ll be at close to 50 by 2020. 

Will any further UK expansion be along these same lines, e.g. a hotel with a Café alongside?

We generally keep them separate, although sometimes it does make sense to combine them. In London, it will make sense, as Oxford Street has a lot of footfall, and we have a big hotel [900 bedrooms] and a strong brand. We love to team up with other great concepts, so we can create a destination, not just for overnight guests but for people outside too.

Hard Rock has a reputation for being quite an international, tourist-friendly brand. How will the new hotel appeal to locals?​ 

We want to target everyone – say, people who work in town, who might want a drink and a bite on the way home. It's quite easy to appeal to different customers with a hotel, because you have different areas: a lobby, a bar, meeting rooms. It's safe to say we'll do music events at the new hotel fairly regularly, and we’ll also have other food and beverage outlets.

So you’ve signed a deal in Glasgow, what’s happening there so far?

We are moving forward on that, but nothing else has been confirmed. We are committed to the UK, though. Now we have London in the open, more people are expressing interest in working with us here.

So which other cities within the UK might you be interested in potentially?​ 

I think our brand would suit any place, especially, say, Liverpool, because of its music history. Manchester and Birmingham also both have strong fundamentals. Where there are strong market dynamics and the mainstream hotel brands, it would work.

Do you have an idea of how many sites you'd like to have in the UK? 

Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool...those are the main ones that we'd respond to most quickly. We don't have a set timeframe yet, but we're looking at 2018 and beyond. Sometimes deals do happen quickly. 

Obviously Hard Rock is an established brand, it's been in London since 1971. How do you stay relevant and fresh?

As a lifestyle brand, we've been doing lifestyle for years. We have a long and authentic history, and we've learned what works. We have the experience. We encompass dining, hospitality, casinos, retail, events, and music. So there are many more touchpoints for consumers to interact with us. To stand out from the crowd, we just do what we've already been doing. We've got a lot of history behind us.

So you're able to build on each element in different ways, to update what you're doing?

Exactly. We work in the music space as well as the hotel space, and to be relevant there, you have to constantly keep on top of what's new and hot. We're targeting people who might spend £2,000 on a hotel, but also kids of the next generation. One of the areas we do this is our Hard Rock Records charity that we use to recognise up and coming artists. We're always trying to stay ahead of the curve. 

How do you ensure that hotel guests pick up on your efforts to stay fresh?

They offer packages, such as Sounds of Your Stay, which gives you a download code for three different playlists chosen by us or music professionals, alongside other things such as renting a guitar and learning how to play it in your room; innovations like that. In each region of the world, it's about embracing local music and the culture. We also have concepts such as our Rock Spas, with treatments using a sound dome, with uplifting music and a massage choreographed to the beat. It's out of this world.

How will you adapt your offer and brand to London? 

One way is through music memorabilia, of which we have one of the world's largest collections, and we're going to have quite a substantial collection in the London hotel - embracing its past and roots and where it is today. In the music programming we'll have some great events and showcasing the latest talents here too.

It's a bit of an unstable time for Britain and Europe after Brexit. Do you think your plans will be affected?

I hope not! But I don't think anybody really knows yet. For us, it's business as usual. All of these markets need to continue operating, no-one can afford to take a time out completely. So far so good. We're taking opportunities as they come.

Related topics: People, Small Talk

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