TAO Group has its expansion sights firmly fixed on Asia.
The nightclub and restaurant operator last week (June 14) announced the opening of its flagship nightclub brand Marquee in Singapore next year at the luxurious Marina Bay Sands hotel, where TAO also launched its LAVO Italian Restaurant & Rooftop Bar in January.
Occupying the space formerly filled by one of the hotel’s two theaters, Marquee Singapore will boast 70-foot ceilings, a full-sized and functional Ferris wheel and performances by the brand’s bevy of musical residents, including Kaskade, Dash Berlin, Erick Morillo, Andrew Rayel, DJ Khaled, French Montana and Travis Scott.
“Marina Bay Sands is privileged to be collaborating once again with hospitality titan TAO Group to bring in a club concept that is famed for drawing some of the biggest entertainers and DJs in the industry,” says Marina Bay Sands president and CEO George Tanasijevich. “Marquee Singapore is among a series of new dining and entertainment concepts in the pipeline that will continue to set Marina Bay Sands as an unparalleled nightlife destination.”
TAO Group co-founders Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, Marc Packer and Rich Wolf first opened Marquee Nightclub in New York in December 2003 and have since overseen its expansion to Las Vegas and Sydney, Australia.
TAO Group has enjoyed a fast-paced expansion since the Madison Square Garden Company acquired a majority stake in February 2017, opening and planning new properties in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and Singapore.
What’s the venture’s backstory?
About five years ago, we really started to notice a larger amount of Asian fans coming to our venues, not just Asian Americans but also people from overseas, like China, Southeast Asia, or Singapore. We started to think about our entry into the market, and as an opportunistic company, we started to take trips. Also when we opened in Sydney, the market there is heavily Chinese and Southeast Asian as well, so we felt that the Marquee brand was starting to get a lot of traction in that part of the world. So it was all of these different observations folded into one that set off an alert that we needed to find a home for Marquee in Asia. We have this really long-standing relationship with Marina Bay Sands — they’re owned by Sands Corp., which owns The Venetian in Vegas, The Palazzo in Vegas where we have LAVO — so we started talking to our friends there and started to express some interest. There used to be some clubs at the hotel but they were venues that the hotel leased to operators. And the resort wanted to have something that they were part of, so we decided to do a JV with them and build a bunch of venues.
So we started with LAVO and the next project will be Marquee, and we’re actually doing a couple of other venues in the same building but we’re holding off on announcing them. Ultimately we will have a cluster of four or five of our venues all at one amazing building and one of the most incredible resorts in the world. That was the real attraction to picking Singapore, to just be able to open in such an iconic building and partner with the owner of the building on it. So we’re hoping that once we successfully cross the globe and open there, it might be the first of our possible Asian expansion plans.
What else about Singapore drew you to the market?
Singapore has also been a very nightlife friendly market and there are a lot of great clubs and festivals there, the fact that its around an Ultra festival in Singapore and there’s like a 4 a.m. culture there of people who go out. There’s a real scene and culture there that really follows the music.
Another factor that helped us choose it is that, while the city itself is between five and six million people, there are so many people who live within an hour or two’s flight. We’re really counting on building something that’s gonna attract people from Kuala Lumpur, from Jakarta, you know? We’re really gonna market to the whole region, not just the city. Doing that comes with challenges by the way — we have to do things in four or five different languages and different time zones.
What are some key factors that you look for when you evaluate new markets for potential expansion?
Well that’s the first one, finding a culture of people that like going to clubs.
The second is, having the observation that there are more than five million people in Singapore, plus there’s the tourism, which is something like 17 million tourists per year. So kind of like New York, Las Vegas, being a market that has a large, strong local population and also has tourist component. Other than that, you don’t want a city where you have to just rely on the people who live there being there every night, but you also don’t want to have to just rely on tourism either. The balance of the two is a really key thing when we think about expanding into other markets.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since expanding internationally?
Listen, we opened in Sydney six years ago. And one of the things we learned is that you can’t rush — you have to take your time. It took us some time in Sydney. While the club was really popular our first two years, it took us some time to understand the local market and get it right. The last two years have been better than our first two because we took time to learn mistakes. When you come into the market, you don’t know everyone, you don’t know everything. You’re not gonna get it right. I’ve heard of people who are like ‘oh we’re gonna go expand, we’re gonna go open in Hong Kong next year, Singapore the year after, Jakarta the year after.’ You can’t do that. You have to basically plan on one market and give it a couple years. When I say we’re gonna expand to Asia, we don’t have another plan right now. After we’re there, we will give it a couple years and see where it takes us.
It’s also just hiring local people. Like I learned in Australia — we moved a bunch of our team members from New York and Vegas to Sydney and it was great to have them there in the beginning, but ultimately we replaced them all with people who were from Sydney. And with Singapore, while we’ll move some people who are from other markets, we’re really trying to hire as many people who are from Singapore as possible.