Much ado has been made about Atlantis, The Palm, Jumeirah, the fabulous ocean themed resort being created by Kerzner International Holdings on the man-made palm frond. CHERYL MANDY speaks to Alan Leibman, president and managing director Kerzner International, responsible for the operational development of this mammoth undertaking
The resort opens at the end of this month. Are all developments completely ready?
Yes – everything is on schedule. We are very excited about the opening day which happens on September 24th. The Aquaventure has been tried and tested many times already, and yes, I have been down the Leap of Faith (a 27.5 m vertical drop) myself, though I have to admit I opened my eyes only on the 4th time down!
Having been involved in all aspects of designing and developing Atlantis resort, what aspects have been the most challenging?
It has been an extraordinary journey. Sol [Kerzner-executive chairman] is a creative genius, he pushes barriers in an innovative and inspiring way. To coordinate all the different designers, architects, landscapers, builders – in fact all the facets of this huge project - takes a lot of focus. We have had a world class team, with a wealth of talent – it really has been a stupendous team effort.
What is fantastic now is to see it all coming together. Hotels in the UAE are traditionally very good but we are delivering something extraordinary to the region.
You were recruiting and training around 3,500 staff – has this been achieved and where have most been sourced?
We have indeed recruited that number from 45 different countries and are committed to training and developing our new staff. The quality of people is amazing, and the beauty of this business is it is very international so we have a huge complement of languages spoken, which can be beneficial to our guests that will hail from all corners of the world.
We recruited both internally through our Kerzner brands and externally. The high level of executive talent we have is also a big bonus.
How are your bookings from now until December? Where is most interest coming from?
Bookings are coming in nicely from all over the world. The majority of interest has been from Europe, led by the UK, followed by GCC countries and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries. I think we will see continuing interest from these markets. We will get a lot of business at different times of the year, for example, over the EID holidays, the Christmas holidays and mid-term school breaks.
By December we will probably be in line with other hotels in the region, that is at around 80 per cent occupancy.
We had 5 million people visiting the Bahamas every year and we would expect the same amount of guests here too eventually. In the initial year we would anticipate about 2-2.5 million guests.
How do you go about dealing with negative publicity, for example regarding the dolphins in the marine habitat you have created?
The marine habitat is an extraordinary place consisting of 46 hectares full of marine life. Dolphin Bay is a 4.5 hectare lagoon set aside for the dolphins. The entire area has the world’s best people giving the best care available, with qualified vets, biologists, divers, and so on – in fact there are over 165 marine animal specialists. A lot of our staff have brought with them extensive experience from the Bahamas operation.
Any guest can come in at any time of the day and see it for themselves and they will realise that we have a strong commitment to dolphin conservation and protection. It will also serve as a marine mammal rescue centre, the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf.
Will you continue to concentrate on overseeing Atlantis?
I have been with Kerzner International for 15 years now. I was in the Bahamas for 12 of those years, last position as chief operating officer for all the Kerzner Paradise Island properties. I moved over here to Dubai to work on the Atlantis project and I’ll be around to continue with the operation.
Can the Middle East expect any more developments from Kerzner International?
Within Kerzner International, we are certainly looking at more developments in the region particularly within the One&Only brand.
Atlantis is a $1.5 billion operation. There are not many resorts like this that you can feasibly open. If there was a place in the Middle East with the right structure, the right infrastructure, supporting airlines, government and so on, we would certainly look at another Atlantis.