Hakkasan targets hospitality heights

Group president Nick McCabe discusses transition from restaurants and nightlife to hotels

Hakkasan Group president Nick McCabe.
Hakkasan Group president Nick McCabe.

As Hakkasan transitions from being a restaurant and nightlife brand to a true hospitality player, all eyes are on its first hotel, in Dubai. Group president Nick McCabe discusses the company’s plans and sets out the importance of the development

As more hotel brands look to make their mark in Dubai, it is not unusual for executives to assign a certain level of overwrought hype, and roll out the hyperboles.

However, when the importance of a hotel development is laid out in the measured way that Hakkasan Group president Nick McCabe does, observers can only sit up and listen.

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“There is a lot of expectation around it because of who we are and because of what we’ve done in other areas in terms of raising the bar in restaurants and nightlife,” he tells Hotelier Middle East.

“So, we as a company are very focused on that hotel in terms of the future. The Middle East really is central to our plans over the next few years.”

What he is speaking about — ‘that hotel’ — is for once a landmark development which may actually live up to that billing; a flagship property that will be raised for all and sundry to see. Hakkasan’s hotel on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai really is that important.

Announced in September 2013, the hotel was supposed to start taking shape last year, although McCabe tells Hotelier that a more measured approach to conceptualising the property means construction is now likely to start this summer.

Set to open in 2017, it will be Hakkasan’s first hotel in the world, building on its successful international portfolio of restaurants and nightlife, including in the Middle East.

With the company’s roots in Las Vegas and presence in major gateway cities such as London and Paris, it may have seemed strange for the company to make its hospitality debut in Dubai. However, as McCabe explains, it all came down to the right opportunity.

“Dubai has been booming for a number of years now,” he says. “Hotels are in demand, especially high end luxury products.

“Because of the piece of real estate we were able to get access to on Palm island — which is just a stunning site for a hotel — the decision was made to develop a hotel there, and I think it’s the right one.”

Located on the west crescent of the man-made archipelago, the new hotel will be located a few plots down from One&Only The Palm. The property’s developer is Tasameem Real Estate LLC, an Abu Dhabi-based investment company, which is also the owner of Hakkasan itself.

Towards the end of 2014, Hakkasan initiated a design contest for the new property, providing some direction but asking six international architects to put forth their visions for the project. These were submitted in January and the company will reveal the winning design and plans later this year.

While the specifics remain under wraps, McCabe can confirm that the hotel will be “boutique” in terms of size.
“We’ll probably be around the 100-room mark,” he explains. “It really depends on some decisions we make with regards to the size of rooms and the number of luxury villas we do versus normal rooms. Those decisions are yet to be made.

“Realistically our view is that Hakkasan should have an impeccable service. It should be very personalised, and in order to achieve that you need to keep the room count fairly low.

“We look to be delivering a level of service that would be common for all our restaurants and nightlife, and it’s working out how we carry that through the hotel and how many we can realistically accommodate, while not sacrificing the service standard.”

The mention of restaurants and nightlife is a reminder of the bread and butter of the company, and one which it entered the region with in 2010, in the form of Hakkasan Abu Dhabi, at the Emirates Palace hotel. With all the attention on the new hotel, where does that leave any prospects for further outlets, in other hotels or developments?

“The hotel is really our entire focus in the region right now,” McCabe explains. “It really is that crucial to our business. We’re not really engaging in any other discussions.”

That’s not to say that F&B is off the radar. If anything, the hotel will significantly increase its activity in this sphere in the region, with the company looking to buck the trend of outsourcing significant chunks to third-party operators.

“Our idea is that if we build a Hakkasan hotel, there’s going to be an expectation of fantastic F&B to go with it. That doesn’t just mean a Hakkasan restaurant. That means for us, leveraging all of the brand-building we’ve been doing in our restaurant and nightlife portfolio,” adds McCabe.

“Making sure that to the extent we can control every single restaurant, bar and nightlife component ourselves. Because we feel like we know our business very well.”

Its rapid growth over recent years means the company has an enviable portfolio of restaurant and nightlife brands it can turn to, including Yautcha and Sake No Hana, dim sum and sushi concepts respectively, which both have their roots in London.

When the hotel does open in 2017, it will be managed by MGM Hakkasan Hospitality, the 50/50 joint venture formed between Hakkasan Group and MGM Resorts International last year. McCabe says having a partner with strong experience in hotels is a major advantage as it feels its way in a new sector.

“The hotel concept was being conceived when we were inking that [joint venture] deal, so MGM has been with us every step of the way,” he elaborates. “They are very much engaged in the process with regard to design, functionality.

“We try not to be arrogant about our business. We understand our strengths worldwide. We understand that we’ve mastered a level of service which is fairly unmatched in our industry. What we had to realise for the hotel was that we don’t know the business inside-out with our background. So it was important to find a partner who is grounded in the hotel world; who has managed to provide impeccable service.

“That’s why having a JV with MGM is so critical to us. It really did bring a skill set to our group that wasn’t
there, and it accelerated the process. Had we wanted to build our own hotel division, it would have taken a number of years to recruit the right people, to establish guidelines, whereas MGM can come in and get us to the races fairly quickly.”

Beyond the Dubai hotel, no firm plans are in place for any further hotels, although McCabe identifies gateway cities such as London, Paris and Los Angeles for future developments. However, these are likely to be very different types of properties.

“The Dubai hotel will very much be a resort brand: it’s on the beach, it’s waterfront, so that will inform the design,” he says.

“The city-centric Hakkasan hotel, which will come through, whether the first one will be in London or New York, will have a very different feel; more urban-focused and a very different type of layout.
“So I think fairly soon after we get started in Dubai, our goal will be to secure a pretty major city site and develop a city-centric hotel.”

In the meantime, all eyes are on the west crescent of Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, as hospitality observers wait to see what Hakkasan comes up with; something McCabe is well aware of.

“We’re very focused and understand this first hotel in Dubai will really make our brand in the context of becoming a large hotel company.”

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