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Atlantis evolving and innovating
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Atlantis evolving and innovating

Paul Burke talks about his first year at the helm of the Paradise Island megaresort

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2016
January 1, 2016
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

When Paul Burke’s youngest child left home to go to college, the veteran US hospitality industry executive knew it was time for a new challenge and an international assignment to The Bahamas seemed like just the ticket.

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“I was ready to try something bold,” says Burke, who accepted his first overseas post of a 30-year career in 2011, when Atlantis Paradise Island appointed him as chief operating officer.

As COO Burke was intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the family resort, which has welcomed 15 million guests since opening in 1994. In March 2015, Burke replaced outgoing managing director and president George Markantonis and assumed oversight for a near $40 million, two-year property upgrade.

The scope of works include re-imagined epicurean experiences, the introduction of an elite gaming salon, updates to The Cove luxury resort and a total transformation of Atlantis’s Coral Towers–the resort’s more moderately priced accommodation.

“In my current role there is much more involvement in things that require strategic and longer range planning. You get to become more involved with sales and marketing, advertising, investor relations, revenue management and entertainment planning, so it’s really exciting,” says Burke. “Sometimes in operations, we’re simply putting out fires [so to speak]. In this role you are really either preventing them or understanding when they are going to happen.”

The enemy of great is good
An iconic destination, Atlantis by any measure is a successful property. Still, owner Brookfield Real Estate Financial Partners believes the resort should be vigilant in keepings things fresh.

At press time, Burke and his team were finalizing plans to extensively renovate Coral Towers by the third quarter of this year. The resort expects to launch a competition attracting top design teams from across the globe to pitch their best concept on how to renovate the property on a $20 million plus budget.

The goal is to keep the development new, exciting and able to attract a new breed of travellers, who hanker for new guest experiences. With that in mind, in the fourth quarter of 2015, the resort commenced renovations at the Plato lounge bar and in addition to launching “a top to bottom” transformation of the Marketplace– Atlantis’s highest revenue generating restaurant–into Poseidon’s Table. Combined, the eateries’ re-design carries an $8 million price tag.

Upon completion of the renovations in February, Poseidon’s Table is set to feature large, round booths and banquette seating able to accommodate 300 guests within the family-oriented restaurant. The new dining space will retain the Marketplace buffet format with its made-to-order stations.

Another component of Atlantis’s transformation was a $3 million spend to create a high limits private gaming casino, Salon Privé. An intimate setting tucked away on the main casino floor, the resort’s blog describes it as “ultra-private gaming rooms for the most prestigious of table game players.” The construction of Salon Privé and renovations at Plato were completed last November.

“Our expenditures on capital every year far surpasses what the industry average is as a percentage of revenue and reinvestment in the property,” says Burke. “Our investors are totally committed to making sure we are armed and ready to compete with whoever is out there. We want every guest to leave wanting to return.”

Atlantis’s upgrades also included an extensive renovation of the 600-room resort The Cove, popular for its large rooms with sunken living space. The $8 million refurbishment launched in December consists of new headboards, carpets and wall art. Guest interruptions are expected to be minimal due to the rolling renovation schedule, which is expected to conclude by late February, according to the hotel operator.

Leading from the front
Burke, a man who likes to “lead from the front,” spends a significant amount of time coaching the resort’s senior team, inspiring its leaders and working on deepening their commitment to the organization.

“I like to be present and plugged into what’s going on and to understand the pulse of the organization,” he says. “At the end of the day we want to make sure that every guest that leaves here, leaves wanting to tell their co-workers, their neighbours, their friends and their relatives, that they should come to The Bahamas and specifically they should come to Atlantis.”

Recently, Atlantis spent a substantial amount of time and energy changing its 10-year-old core values. “They needed to be updated,” says Burke, who describes the changes as “similar but more refined.” The update reflected a corresponding shift in guest expectations and Atlantis’s commitment to providing guests with a once in a lifetime experience.

To date, the biggest challenge faced by the megaresort is increasing competition from places such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and even closer to home, Cuba. To ensure that sales and marketing remains sharp, the resort prides itself on dispensing top-tier service to its existing client base, while utilizing capital expenditures in ways that not only address the most crucial areas, but also provide a high return on investment.

The strategy has seemingly paid off. The hotel has enjoyed three consecutive years of significant double digit growth in Latin America. In fact, for the last two years Atlantis has grown its market share over 50 per cent in that region due in no small part to Copa Airlines’s four regularly scheduled, nonstop flights to Nassau from Panama City, and the opening of global sales offices in the LatAm market.

Moreover, the resort’s franchise marketing relationship with the Marriott via their Autograph brand provides Atlantis with direct mail marketing access to over 40 million loyal Marriott frequent travellers, including those in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Presently, Atlantis’s guest mix is comprised of nearly 50 per cent family, 30 per cent group and about 20 per cent casino. “Of course, we’d like the numbers to grow proportionately together so we are constantly trying to drive group business on the shoulder periods of the year, May and September,” says Burke.

When children are in school and families aren’t able to travel is when casino high rollers and group customers are “highly attractive” to resorts. Consequently, hotels roll out some enticing incentives and promotions to attract that business.

A significant portion of the Paradise Island resort’s business has always come from the eastern part of the US. The opening of new sales offices, strategic promotions and aggressive advertisement in key areas has enabled the resort to “significantly” grow its business out of the southwest US, in addition to making significant inroads into such markets as California, Illinois and Canada.

In fact, 80 per cent of the hotel’s business originates out of the US, with Canada a distant second at 10 per cent and the remainder of thehotel guests hailing from Europe and Latin America.

“We always have our eyes and ears open for any developing markets, especially in the US,” says Burke. “We watch for states and cities that start to do well.” For example, in the past, Atlantis worked the state of Texas, particularly cities such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. “They have really dramatically increased today versus where they were a couple of years ago,” says Burke. “We’d like to think the promotional and advertising efforts we made in those markets are really paying off.”

A breakout year
According to Burke, Atlantis prides itself on consistently creating a buzz around the resort. He points to summer l ast year when magician and illusionist Rob Lake performed. “That far exceeded any of our expectations. Families loved it,” says Burke. Of the 90 nights Lake performed his act, the resort sold out 75 of them. “He did so well we signed him up to come back in mid-November to mid- January of 2016.”

Although guests’, vacationing habits are changing with regards to the length of stay, albeit very slightly, vacationers are trying to do more activities in less time. “Families are leading more hectic lives these days with both parents working so we find that there are times where people are reducing their length of stay, but it’s minor,” says Burke.

To help vacationers get more out of their visit, Atlantis continues to turn to technology, whether it’s speedier check-ins and check-outs, or making dinner reservations through mobile devices.

For Burke, the unsung heroes in Atlantis’s success story are the hotel’s employees. “They keep delivering and creating an experience for our guests that keeps them wanting to come back and we’re just so very grateful for all the work that they do.”

Burke says the resort remains committed to training, promoting from within and motivating its people to deepen their commitment to the hotel.

“We had an excellent 2015, in terms of occupancy,” says Burke. “On a year-to-date basis we had the best year that we’ve had in a number of years.”

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