With only four months on the job as Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s new president of global development, Marco Roca is talking momentum. The company is in a state of change, emerging from bankruptcy protection and completing a merger with Caesars Acquisition Co. and, as a result, opening up avenues for growth here and internationally.
Today, Caesars Entertainment has a renewed focus to propel it forward and a cadre of investors ready to take the journey with them. Among the company’s strategic moves was the hiring of Roca and Michael Daly, SVP of strategy and M&A, who were tapped to grow the brand.
“It’s truly been a whirlwind and a fascinating one at that,” said Roca. “There are the people who have been in a tough place but through hard work and diligence, as well as focusing on the basics and staying on-program, have been able to achieve so much. And, we’ve worked hard to put a hotel offering in place—booth design, market research, prospect visits, etc. We’ve approached our budgets for growth and we expect to be putting bodies in place soon. During this time, we’re focused on our core business and that is growth of our entertainment division. It’s exciting to know that we’re now coming into the hospitality business as pure-play hotels, taking all of the fundamentals, and it’s so strong. We have a lot of momentum.”
“I grew up in Mexico and there’s a saying: ‘The devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the devil,’” he said. “I have three decades of hospitality experience and during that time, I’ve worked for a lot of start-ups, such as Microtel. I was also a part of the launch of Aloft and Holiday Inn Express operations, and my experience in established brands has served me well. The fundamentals are the same; you need to do the same things to launch a hospitality brand and succeed.”
Movement within the industry is also stimulating to Roca, watching the mergers of large hotel companies, such as Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, as well as the potential for hotel rivals NH Hotel Group and Grupo Barcelo to create the largest Spanish conglomerate.
“Large brands can accommodate guests and most people look to those points. You can capitalize on them later having these numerous locations,” he said. “We have worldwide occupancy in the mid-90s and well over 1,000 reservation agents in our in-house reservation system to drive significant value and a brand recognition of 88%. We have a collection of brands to be reckoned with and the industry will be keen on watching.”
A recent stint at Hard Rock International as EVP and chief development officer gave Roca a taste of what it’s like to work on casino ventures. “It was something I touched on very lightly and was mostly working with amenity casinos. Hard Rock opened my eyes to a profitable business. It became an area I wanted to devote my time and energy to—and what better place to do that than the world’s largest casino company?” he said.
As the hospitality industry continuously evolves to address the ever-changing needs of travelers, Roca says the trend toward experiential travel and the sharing economy is in the brand’s wheelhouse.
“Where they come together is where Caesars Entertainment flourishes,” he said. We’re third largest in terms of sales volume. People are looking for experiences, and we’ve provided that at more than 600 bars and restaurants. We’re a large entertainment offering where entertainment meets hospitality, which is a key element and where we really thrive.”
Buoyed about the future, Roca wants to keep the momentum going through development projects, licensing deals and management contracts, as well as creating value on the Las Vegas Strip and abroad.
“I was fortunate to inherit a seasoned professional casino development team. Caesars has about 60-plus casino opportunities in the pipeline. Since I’ve begun, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he said. “We have a qualified pipeline of 25 hotels locally, mostly in gateway cities. We’re all so full of segmentation, from full-service to luxury and everything in between. It’s all about building out the team and the goal is to be in position one day to have Caesars or Caesars Palace in every gateway city, a Flamingo in major resort towns and opportunities for boutique brands. Where it relates to select-service, the link is to be a growth vehicle in all markets.” HB