Interview with Serge Zaalof, President & Managing Director of Atlantis The Palm

By olga Wednesday, 17 May 2017 5:21 PM

Interview with Serge Zaalof, President & Managing Director of Atlantis The Palm

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ATM 2017 was full of wonderful surprises and incredible moments. The most fantastic one was for Aviamost to share the excitement and celebrations with the Atlantis team – the Kerzner International Resorts,  was awarded the Best Stand Design on the final day of the exhibition. Congratulations!

With so many “wow” effects today at the exhibition and with so many new properties coming up every day, how do you still “wow” your guests and distinguish yourself from competition?

For us it is very easy. We are going back to the “old” hospitality. When you go to a smaller hotel, the guests expect to have a “good morning”, a “good evening” and very special treatment. In a large hotel it is not right there. The guest says “OK! It is a large hotel”. So we put a lot of emphasis on the hospitality element and the service. That’s all.

What are your new developments within the brand and new properties like Royal Atlantis on The Palm which is due in 2019 if my sources are right, and also Sanya Atlantis in China? We would like to know more about these properties.

It is good! You are doing the questions and the answers. Good research. Yes, we have a new property coming up in China and in Hawaii also. I am going there next week actually. Let me tell you more about these. The Royal Atlantis will be opening in the last quarter of 2019. You have the book there (Serge designates the property brochure lying on the desk). It is a bit of departure in terms of the architecture of the hotel. The architects are Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates from New York. And there will be a “residents” component, which is a first for Atlantis. We will have 230 apartments and residences and 780 rooms for the hotel.

It is a very interesting project. Did you announce it during this ATM?

It is a very modern project. We announced it last year in a very subtle way; however the sales of the apartments just started. And the owner, Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD), who are the owners of Atlantis, full owners, believe in investing in hotel business with us and we are very happy.

What is the difference between the existing Atlantis, The Palm and the Royal Atlantis?

We are going to take the successes of Atlantis, the original one, I mean the celebrity chefs, and in phase two also, the new chefs and the design element, you can see the architecture, it is striking, a big departure from what we do now, and the interior design will be very modern. We will have maybe about 18 bar and restaurants. On the top floor, we will have a 100-meter wide pool, which will evolve from being a restaurant and a pool during the day to a lounge-club in the evening.

What about the access to the beach? This attracts the Russian market very much…

Actually in the residential part, a lot of Russians are investing. This is just along the sky pool, here will be the Arabian Sea and Arabian Gulf, and over there will be the beaches. It is going to be a lounge-club at night and during the day; a restaurant. It will be gorgeous.

With the recent announcement of “Visa-On-Arrival” for the Russian guests, which marketing initiatives are you taking to attract guests from this market segment?

We were very well established before with the Russian market, but because of the crisis, the ruble has been down and the oil price has been down, there has been a slowdown. But now we have a strong pick-up with the Russian market and the CIS countries. So we are very happy that they are back.

Are you doing some kind of special initiatives to attract guests from these markets? Are you working with tour operators, and do you have any joint initiatives with DTCM?

We work closely with tour operators, yes, we have partners. DTCM also is investing money in Russia, they not only promote Atlantis but Dubai as a whole destination. And the Russian customer is a luxury customer. So naturally they come to Dubai, because there is a lot of luxury, a lot of shopping. So it is a good thing.

How about Chinese? They also get “Visa-On-Arrival” since October last year.

There are 47 countries which have no visa requirements. And the Chinese market has been growing a lot for the last few years. It represents about 10% of our inventory for the year and you can open Russia and China or close these as you wish, because Chinese are travelling a lot and they are curious. So it is a good story. Everybody is coming back. Even Germany is back, France is coming back very strongly too... We are very happy. The hotel is doing very well, compared to last year in April we have 16% more occupancy, year-to-date towards the end of April we will be 13.2% more occupancy. We will achieve, I think, up to end of April 92.7% for the first four months. We are very happy.

Summer is already around the corner. Ramadan will soon be starting. Are you planning on doing some packages for the period? Special rates, much cheaper, 25% or 50% discounts?

Like we do every year. It is a rate-driven market in summer. We have been practicing for the past few years. If we take 31st of December, we have reached rates up to USD 1200. If we take summer, you go up to USD 300. So this is a big gap. But you have to adapt your product to the market.

What do you think about Family tourism?

The “Family” business has been growing since 2009. I believe I asked in 2009 to do a survey, it was only 42% of the market, Atlantis’ share of family. Now we are 68%. So it is a big growth. We also have guests through incentive, also for the conference center, we have banking customers coming to us for seminars; we also have couples, so it is growing nicely. We have facilities for kids. We are working on a new family-kids area in Aquaventure. So it will be a nice addition to the family.

How is Aquaventure doing with all the new parks and attractions that are coming out?

Very well, 1.2 million people a year. It is a very good volume and it attracts so many people because we have the more exciting slides and we have a very big special area for kids, and this new area will have rides, like we have now, but miniatures. It will be nice and very different.

After so many years in Atlantis, how do you see yourself growing further, achieving more on a personal level?

I am thinking of growing the business. I am not thinking about myself. If you take my academic background, I should not be here. I am an accident. So I am very happy with what I have. We are growing nicely and we are doing well. There is a good team working at the hotel and that is enough.

Thank you very much and congratulations again for the award!