|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
When Sarkis Izmirlian shared his bold vision for the Cable Beach strip in 2005, it left Las Vegas hotel and casino manager Paul Pusateri scratching his head. “He drove me down a street and said: ‘You see all these hotels? They are going. We are going to move all these buildings and move this road we are driving on,’” says Pusateri.
The road was West Bay Street; the buildings were a police and fire station, two hotels, three banks and the Office of the Prime Minister. Everything was going to make way for Baha Mar–Izmirlian’s megadevelopment, featuring hotels, a world-class casino, fine dining restaurants, shopping, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, a convention centre and a slew of luxury amenities.
It was an extraordinary proposal–the largest single-phase resort development in the western hemisphere.
“Nine years later, we are doing it,” says Pusateri, who signed on last year as the chief operating officer of the $3.5 billion project. “I was amazed with [Izmirlian’s] tenacity, his vision. He’s just relentless in pursuit of his dream. You couldn’t ask for a better leader at the helm.”
Although Baha Mar includes a number of hotel brands, the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel of which Pusateri is the general manager, has been dubbed the project’s “crown jewel.” It features 1,000 luxury hotel rooms and a 100,000 sq ft casino, with 1,500 slot machines and 150 table games.
Pusateri is the perfect man to manage the facility, having been involved in launching and operating some of the largest and most successful casino hotels in Las Vegas. “My experience and knowledge makes it easier, because you’re able to be preemptive. You are thinking of things before they happen,” he says. “The key to it all is breaking it down into pieces and managing from a structural and cohesive process.”
According to a recent Economic Impact Report by Oxford Economics, from 2005 to 2012, Baha Mar pumped $2.1 billion into the local economy. Once it opens at the end of this year, it is projected to account for 12.8 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
To ensure that happens, Baha Mar needs to significantly modify the tourism model in the jurisdiction. “The Bahamas has traditionally had a very seasonal cycle of business throughout the year. We want to accomplish what we were able to accomplish in Las Vegas, and that is to flatten out that seasonality,” says Pusateri.
The hotel and casino manager intends to drive business during the off-season through specialized marketing efforts, entertainment and creative ideas. The casino will be key to the initiatives. Drawing on a database of casino customers, marketing efforts will reach far beyond the traditional markets of the US and Canada, seeking to attract visitors from China, Latin America, Europe, Mexico and Russia, says Pusateri.
Advertising in connector markets and in gateway cities, such as New York and London, among others, will be critical to attracting high rollers, he adds. “The hotel is the business, the luxury automobile, but the casino is the engine that drives it,” says Pusateri.
In order to keep the business humming, Baha Mar is designing a first of its kind, state-of-the-art IT system, which would allow its international hotel partners to share information advantageous to the campus as a whole.
The Baha Mar project is unique in that it is partnering with a stunning portfolio of international hotels, which at press time are Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Grand Hyatt and Meliá Hotels International. The various brands are coordinating marketing efforts, led and supported by Baha Mar and its multi-million-dollar campaign, to build critical mass, keep occupancy high and facilitate great campus interaction.
“We really get triple bang for the buck in terms of what we spend. We are going to have a far greater reach than any single property may have,” says Pusateri, who believes the demand for the destination will far outpace Baha Mar’s inventory of 2,900 rooms and residences. “The beauty of this campus is that as each individual brand builds their base of business through their own channels, we at Baha Mar come in from the top and can push down the excess.” This allows the resort to redistribute customer bookings across the five hotel offerings as and when necessary.
This is called “yielding” in revenue management terms and allows the operator to reap the highest rate of business that it can in periods when it is needed the most. “It is complex, but we have great partners and we are all working together to maximize this once in a lifetime opportunity at Baha Mar.”
Baha Mar’s unique appeal is that a guest’s experience is not limited to one hotel brand, says Greg Saunders, general manager of Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar.
“You have the overall destination experience of Baha Mar and then you have the idiosyncrasies of each brand to contribute to that experience and provide a unique atmosphere,” he explains. “Nowhere else can you go and find five brands so closely integrated.”
Saunders maintains, however, that each of Baha Mar’s hotel brand partners has its own unique style, as reflected in the architecture, the approach to business and the different customer base. “There’s not a tremendous amount of overlap when you look at a Rosewood or Hyatt customer,” he says. “It’s not like laying two traditional brands in a major US city on top of one another.”
Saunders–a 42-year veteran in the hotel industry–specializes in managing large convention hotels and casino properties. Aside from Hyatt Hotels Corp, he has also worked at Marriott International and MGM Mirage.
Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar will feature 700 rooms and 85 private residences with one-, two- and three-bedroom options. The Grand Hyatt will also manage the 200,000 sq ft convention centre.
Grand Hyatt has booked its first convention group, months before the resort is scheduled to open. In fact, much of its business will revolve around meetings, events and incentive travel.
Saunders believes Hyatt brings to the Baha Mar mix a vibrant, global sales organization coupled with a strong distribution that will boost business and encourage airlines to increase airlift to the island. “We have hundreds of people selling Baha Mar as a destination. We are really going to provide an impetus that is going to make the airlines look at opportunities in The Bahamas differently.”
Saunders, Hyatt Hotels General Manager of the Year 2012, says any hotel’s success is linked to its ability to develop employees and make them feel critical to achieving the resort’s objectives. “You can contribute to building the culture, but you can’t do the job of every individual, so you really have to be able to delegate the responsibility and have people buy into the overall concept of what we are trying to do as a team, as a destination.”
Saunders says that success for Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar will be measured in two ways: employee satisfaction and guest satisfaction. “If you are doing those two things right, and you are doing them consistently, the economics will follow.”
Baha Mar’s hotel brand partners all have their own DNA, says Luis Fernandes, general manager of the ultra-luxurious Rosewood at Baha Mar and this is one of the resort’s great strengths. “All of them have their own niche, their own clientele,” says the accomplished hotelier. “Baha Mar is the destination and it’s got these amazingly different offerings within the complex.”
Rosewood’s unique selling point is its ability to create a strong sense of place in one-of-a-kind hotels. It already has three award-winning resorts in the Caribbean region: Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, Caneel Bay on St John and Jumby Bay on Antigua. In The Bahamas, Rosewood’s 200-room property will be targeting the affluent traveller–be it individual, incentive, or group.
“Every city and every resort destination where Rosewood is present, we are the number one,” says Fernandes, who has 25 years of international hospitality experience and has been with the company for 13 years. “We are recognized as being one of the most expensive resorts. The resort that delivers on the best service, with the highest level of personalized service, design, architecture, gastronomy, wine. Our whole philosophy is about being the best in everything that we do. You can never achieve [perfection] ultimately, but it’s striving for it every day that motivates people.”
His goal is to assemble a talent pool that represents the best that The Bahamas has to offer.
Personal success, he says, boils down to the little things: innovation, creativity, intuition, refined service and engaging the guests. At the industry level, success is about driving the room rate and appealing to the right type of clientele. Ideally, Fernandes would love to see Rosewood at Baha Mar recognized as one of the best resorts in the world within its first two years of operation. “If we can do that, I’ll be very, very happy.”
He also wants the resort to be a success in the local community.
“We really want the Rosewood at Baha Mar to become the social centre of Nassau,” he says. “We want the affluent Bahamians and expats to frequent the Rosewood Baha Mar and really feel that this is a home away from home in Nassau.”
Spain’s hotel giant Meliá, has taken control of the only hotel in the Baha Mar family that’s not new construction.
The all-inclusive Meliá Nassau Beach, which is currently undergoing a $10 million renovation, will come under the Baha Mar umbrella once the refurbishment is completed and be known as Meliá at Baha Mar.
Founded in 1956 by Gabriel Escarrer, the Meliá chain has more than 300 hotels in 40 countries under seven brands: Paradisus, Gran Meliá, ME by Meliá, Meliá, Innside, Tryp and Sol.
The number one resort in Spain, third most popular in Europe and 19th in the world, Meliá is well positioned to grow business at the 694-room Meliá Nassau Beach hotel. At the helm of the resort is general manager Andrew Tilley.
A UK citizen, Tilley and his family lived a nomadic life due to his father’s naval career. Once Tilley graduated from college, he continued to travel, this time, with various hotel companies. He began his hospitality career at the Hilton International in Hong Kong. During his time with Hilton, he was also posted in Kuwait and Dubai.
Tilley has held prominent executive positions at hotels in Scotland, London and New York, prior to landing in The Bahamas.
The majority of the millions being spent at the Meliá is on public areas, says Tilley. The hotel will roll out more dining options, with new restaurants and bars. The hotel has also invested heavily in human resources, with nearly 6,000 hours spent on staff training with the purpose of elevating the hotel’s level of service.
“The most challenging aspect is wanting things to go faster than they actually are,” says Tilley. “We are transforming the hotel and it does take time.”
Key goals Tilley has set for himself include substantial revenue generation, a high level of guest satisfaction and employee development. His hard work already seems to be delivering. In February, with just two months of management under its belt, Meliá witnessed an increase in complimentary guest letters, accolades and, more importantly, room occupancy, according to Tilley. “We are spending a lot of time, money and effort on electronic database and marketing and it’s paying off. Our numbers are increasing month on month, with visitors coming from the US, Europe and Latin America.”
Meliá has targeted Europe-based tour operators to bring additional charter business to Baha Mar, with the potential of establishing regular weekly flights.
As with all the Baha Mar general managers, Tilley is convinced the five hotel properties can co-exist and make Izmirlian’s long held vision a success. “It’s very key and important to understand we’re working for one organization,” he says. “We are just [several] elements under one large umbrella.”