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A year after the opening of Atlantis The Royal, Tom Roelens is a proud Managing Director, reflecting on a very successful first year for the iconic property in Dubai.


A year after the opening of Atlantis The Royal, Tom Roelens is a proud Managing Director, reflecting on a very successful first year for the iconic property in Dubai.

Category: Middle East - United Arab Emirates - - Interviews
Interview made by Sonia Taourghi on 2024-02-09

Tom Roelens Managing Director Atlantis The Royal Dubai

Tom Roelens Managing Director of Atlantis The Royal, Dubai
Photo credit © Atlantis The Royal

It was a year ago that Atlantis The Royal opened to guests. On the 10th February 2023 to be exact. What people would remember though is the opening, three weeks prior. Grandiose, magnificent, star studded, one of a kind. The talk of the town for sure, making headlines in the international travel press and beyond. Beyonce performed in a concert for the first time in 4 years. That opening was a taste of what was to come.

Sitting tall next to its sister Atlantis The Palm, Atlantis The Royal was already billed the most ultra-luxurious hotel in the world. The property opened as a dream destination and needed a dream team. Enter the stage Tom Roelens. He knows something about dreams having spent 20 years at Four Seasons, leading pre-openings and managing hotels in Newport Beach, the Maldives, Lanai and in Kuala Lumpur. Prior to the one of a kind opening weekend of the Atlantis The Royal, Tom Roelens had spent three years spearheading the launch as both Senior Vice President of Operations and General Manager.

One year into its tenure and the running of the property, Tom Roelens, now Managing Director of the property, reflects on the successes, the road ahead and the A team that make a stay at Atlantis The Royal a unique experience.

Journal des Palaces: Atlantis The Royal has now been open fora year. Did you make any changes in how you managethe property since?

Tom Roelens: We are very excited to report a great reception from the audience. And what's very unique is that we created a new audience for the Atlantis. Only 4% of the guests coming to Atlantis Royal have ever been to Atlantis. Most of our guests are new customers, and it's been very exciting to learn about their experience: their likes, their dislikes, their preferences…

What we've seen is that they certainly enjoy the luxury lifestyle, entertainment, dining and that's what the Atlantis Royal is as a destination. Therefore, we continued to build on that by launching the new restaurant with Björn Frantzén which added a 3-star Michelin component or the Nobu Beach Club. Not only that, we also built more partnerships with like-minded brands, notably in fashion. We organise events with Valentino, and opened the first Louis Vuitton store in a resort in the Middle-East, featuring an exclusive collection for Atlantis The Royal. We also had a pop-up takeover of the Cloud 22 day club by Dolce Gabbana - House of Dolce. During the festive season, we had the Graff Christmas tree, the Graff hot chocolate trolley, the Valentino Cafe, to name a few special activities.

All these partnerships extend beyond your typical hotel destination.

How does that quest for more exclusive offerings reflect on the Food and Beverage strategy ?

We have the largest selection of celebrity chef restaurants, on the planet, in one destination. What's unique is that we're learning from that and evolving along. We offered the Last Night in Pompei by Heston Blumenthal, which was the last meal ever served in Pompei. It was an incredible experience.

We opened with Ling Ling, our social dining restaurant, by Hakkasan Group, and we have now added the Ultra Lounge which is an after dining type experience. There are so many elements. Since day one, we launched Gastronomy, and all our guests were telling us it was the world's best breakfast. So we opened the "World's Best Breakfast" for dinner: it includes 17 stations and is built like a food hall. We roast our own coffee, we age the beef ourselves, there's a pizza section… It's evolving from when we launched based on the learnings from our guests and studying what they're looking for.

Even on the sustainability side, we went from opening as a no single-used plastic property, to building water bottling plants. Now that we're up and running, we can shift our attention knowing that the team is also more confident. It's been an incredible year when it comes to awards and recognitions: World's 50 best, Condé Nast, Travel Leisure, Gault&Millau, Michelin… All these accolades in the opening year, and the recognition of our guests - some of them having stayed with us three times already in less than a year -, give the team the confirmation that we're really on the right track. Guests becoming regulars is the ultimate satisfaction for all the colleagues.

How do you balance feedback from the teams, and feedback from the guests?

It's indeed an important combination of what our guests are telling us and what our colleagues are telling us. We're working with people for people. For us it's important to learn from what our team is seeing. That's been an incredible journey alone.

It's also about studying trends. One of the trends is that Suites are booked first, so we're selling from the top down, therefore, we're adding more suites. We have 1544 guest rooms at Atlantis the Palm, and 795 at Atlantis The Royal. We converted 70 rooms into 35 suites on top of the 102 suites already existing, including 6 Signature suites, and 38 Sky Pool villas. We took the concept of a resort that we converted into a vertical environment. So we are a sort of vertical resort because that's where we see the demand. It's also how Dubai has changed over time, whereby there's certainty a demand for that Suite product.
These are the types of learnings we need to understand and act upon.

Was there onething you didn't expect since the opening?

We've had an incredible summer. During Summer, in Dubai, and the Middle-East in general, the luxury occupancy is somewhat dropping. We've never seen this at Atlantis The Palm, thanks to the access to Aquaventure Waterpark, the number of indoor restaurant options, kids club… For us, it was a first at Atlantis The Royal. We outperformed the market substantially, both in terms of occupancy and all other expectations over last summer. It was exceptional for us to see, that even in the ultra-luxury segment, there's an audience that does continue to travel to Dubai, even in the summer, if you have the right offer.

Following up on that, do you see a shift in the travelling periods?

I think we've seen two trends: Dubai is becoming a year round destination - which is quite unique -, and also became an actual destination with guests planning longer stays. In the past, 5 ⁄ 8 years ago, Dubai wasn't the main destination, it was a stopover to the final destination.
Between the dining options, leisure options, and the overall offerings have made Dubai a final destination. On the events side as well, Dubai has evolved. If you look at the festive season, we do adapt and celebrate accordingly as a property, and even in Dubai itself: there's a Formula race now, and the city recently hosted the World Leader Summit. Dubai really has become a destination on the world scene, and that continues to fuel the city. The growth post-COVID of destinations for Emirates Airlines has been incredible as well. We held a gala dinner for the Air show, and again guests travelled from all over the world for the event and the entertainment. The UAE is only 50 years old, and it's impressive to see that growth, and the excitement that continues to build is commendable.

What are most of your customers travelling from ?

We have an international audience. Europe continues to be very strong. The US audience is growing, through the Virtuoso network for example, and particularly for the Suites product. The Asian audience is also growing, and the Middle-East. The Emirates' residents, as well as the local population, have really adopted Atlantis The Royal as the new icon in Dubai. That's been very encouraging because they will always be there, and the fact that they are proud of what we're achieving is very important for us.

Ultimately, we have guests from over 100 countries, and we ensured that the teams can cater for all of them with more than 100 countries being represented amongst our staff. We also try to continually adapt to the demand: if we notice a lot of guests coming from a certain country during a certain period, we'll try to have enough staff with the relevant language. Hence our international recruitment events.
When we noticed the increase in South American guests for example, we started organising more recruitment events in South America. It's important that we not only speak their language, but that we understand the culture, the habits, the expectations that might be very different in different parts of the world but also from country to country. That's an aspect that we value and that we strive to stay close to.
For us it's important to provide the most personalised experience to every guest.

What are the key elements you would attribute your success to?

Firstly, we had an incredible launch. We now have 55 billion impressions since January 20th 2023 and it literally was the launch of the brand "Atlantis The Royal": it's a unique property, with an iconic one of a kind architecture. From the Graff amenities in the guest rooms to the unique selection of items in the Louis Vuitton store, we look at everything we do through the lens of "it's one of a kind, unique, nowhere else to be found" experience.

Second, the phenomenal accommodation. We are very fortunate with the products we bring to the marketplace, whether it's the suites, the guest rooms or the unique areas.
The food and beverage selection is also a strengh: nowhere else in the world you have a concept of three best standing restaurants based in the same location.

Also, beyond the entertainment component that is also unique, we have the wellness component, with the gym, the spa, the yoga, the health programmes that feedback into the restaurant menus or the AEON Aesthetics Clinic, which is about regenerative medicine.

That's a lot of elements that make Atlantis The Royal a product that isn't seen anywhere else.

How does the team contribute to that success?

As I mentioned, we listen to the team everyday. We take feedback through surveys or direct line sessions with each department and teams. It's a daily exercise. You go in with a certain identity, but ultimately it's about what the guest and the colleagues are looking for. We quadrupled our team at Atlantis in the last four years, so it's important to hear from them, from the staff accommodation to the meals we serve. That's 7 000 colleagues, three meals a day…
Depending on which country you are from, you might be looking for different breakfast, lunch and dinner options.We welcome colleagues to Dubai, so we need to see how we impact their lives, and also how we develop the team. This year alone we've promoted 750 colleagues who are moving up the ladder with us. It's not only the growth within Atlantis, it's also the growth within Kerzner, where some of our colleagues assisted with the opening of One&Only One Za'abeel, One&Only Aesthesis. We are able to be a catalyst for the growth of people's careers.

Tell us more about the recruitment events you mentioned?

We pre-screen candidates first, but typically, what we're looking for is the right attitude, the right sense of hospitality, and feeling that we can assist in someone's career growth. It's about people understanding the sense of service. Of course, we'll always be looking for specific roles, with that specific skill set, like for a Sommelier, but we very much value the opportunity of development and growth from within. We were hiring during COVID, at a time when no one else was hiring, so we had access to the best of the best in the industry. We looked worldwide. When we look at the strength of the team today - whether it's from the culinary side, the housekeeping side or any team really, I believe we were able to build a very strong team thanks to that. And we now build on that team to understand what the guests are looking for and go from strength to strength every day.

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About the author

A lover of human interactions, Sonia started her journalism career in various media outlets before moving to London and shifting to the digital industry. Listening to her calling, she's picking up her pen to share the passion and ambitions of luxury hospitality.

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