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Almost 18 months after the opening, we followed up with Tom Roelens during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.


Almost 18 months after the opening, we followed up with Tom Roelens during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

Category: Middle East - United Arab Emirates - Careers - Interviews and portraits - Career - Interviews - Industry leaders
Interview made by Sonia Taourghi on 2024-05-24

Tom Roelens, Managing Director of Atlantis The Royal during ATM 2024 in Dubai

Tom Roelens, Managing Director of Atlantis The Royal during ATM 2024 in Dubai
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

Tom Roelens is feeling delighted and filled with pride. When we crossed paths six months ago at the ILTM in Cannes, the managing director of Atlantis The Royal was already overjoyed by the positive reception of the establishment. The opening weekend alone garnered an astonishing 44 billion impressions! Cloud 22 and the Louis Vuitton store had already made a significant impact, but now, there's also the Louis Vuitton's Viviennes! As you walk through the property, witnessing these magnificent sculptures standing nearly ten feet tall and immersing yourself in the accompanying virtual experiences, it becomes unfathomable to imagine their departure at the end of May.

Despite all the media attention it receives, the property still has the ability to surprise guests with one little-known secret, that is the Royal Club lounge, where guests can enjoy champagne all day long, or the Royal Mansion, custom-made with an entertainment room, crystal olive trees, its kitchen, dedicated butler team, its own lift that gets you in and out of the building, and its private pool, with sea views on one side and the golf on the other side.A suite fitted for all the many wealthy and celebrity guests that the hotel regularly hosts.

Tom Roelens emphasises their mission to "constantly reinvent" the Atlantis with yet another new restaurant to open in the upcoming weeks "guaranteed to become the next celebrity hotspot in this region", he promises.

Tom has a deep affection for his property, and the resort undoubtedly provides a plethora of offerings, including exceptional service. During his chat with Journal des Palaces, Tom Roelens brings us behind the scenes, let us in on the adjustments made since the launch, and what to expect from a career at the Atlantis.

Journal des Palaces: Since we last spoke, there's be even more press and awards. What's the most meaningful recognition you received so far?

Tom Roelens: I think the last time, we spoke about the world's 50 best as we were the only hotel in the Middle East to be featured in that leaderboad.

Something we are very proud of is that we weren’t just able to get the Michelin accolades from a food and beverage point of view for a Michelin star like Heston Blumenthal, for example, but we also were able to achieve the Forbes Travel Guide Five-star award within the inaugural year. It is rare, and we are proud of to be able to achieve that so fast, and for the team to be able to achieve all of these goals.

We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary. What’s been very unique for us is that we have garnered so many awards within the inaugural year, and it’s extraordinary to see those types of results. I also think it generates confidence amongst the team. For all of us now, it is about building on those successes. As we created the brand, the Royal, it also kind of underlines that everybody made the right decision to join Atlantis. People are growing in their careers with us and developing.

What do you think will set Atlantis The Royal apart in Dubai's luxury landscape?

Many guests are now telling us that they are coming to Dubai because of Atlantis The Royal, and we already see a high repeat factor. We already have guests on their 11th visit with us, and we’ve been open for a year.

That is an important factor for us as it means that we are on the right track. It also means that people have not just come and tried us, but they loved the experience. They tell their friends about it, and they are coming back. You have exceptional guest rooms and suites, and great dining with over 50 restaurants and bars; we are now the largest collection of celebrity chef restaurants on the planet in one place, and we are building on that now. Not only that, but we have announced the collaboration with Björn Frantzen, so we expect to have the first three Michelin stars in Dubai at the Atlantis the Palm.

It also extends from a leisure point of view to the experience at the water park. We have now over 100 slides and attractions at the water park. We are the largest water park in the world; it is also the number one thing to do on Trip Advisor.

People are coming for all of these different components. Until we launched the retail offering that we did at Atlantis, there was no luxury retail on the Palm, and today there is. So people come for the shopping, to dine, to enjoy the spa for wellness for their treatments and everything we offer.

We see the interconnection between hospitality and fashion, and the Atlantis Royal strategy is also characterised by luxury brandspartnerships. Is this part of your signature?

I think 2024 is about loud luxury, and we see that translating into some of the offerings from Louis Vuitton, Valentino and so forth. Ultimately, for us, it's also understanding who their audience is and their alignment. It is very important to maintain collaborations where their audience will recognise us and the other way around. So, we continue to do some great collaborations with fashion houses, which is why we worked with Louis Vuitton and had this incredible journey of the mascot.

We launched Graff, the first retail shop we signed up with, whichtranslates to the experience of the guest room as well; when you stay with us, any amenity program in the guest room is a Graff program. The scent comes from the estate of the Graff family. So the experience that we provide goes beyond the retail experience, it is a unique combination of offerings. We also will bring the retail experience to our guest rooms and suites, where Valentina and LV come to you, as opposed to you going to the retail in the resort.

It is not just fashion, as it extends to art, as we have this incredible exhibition with Botero, with Opera Gallery, and extending our collaboration to regularly exhibit exclusive pieces of art in and around the resort.
So it’s art, it’s fashion, it’s dining, it’s wellness. All these components make a unique offering.

With such positive feedback, what keeps challenging you and your teams?

You’re only as good as the last breakfast served, and I think it’s important for us to listen to the guests. So you open the resort, you start with a clean slate, it’s a white canvas. So you aim to create a very different experience, you aim to create an intuitive service, and you aim to launch this ultra-luxury experience that guests may not have yet experienced within the region or their travels. The service component is also key. It’s about offering what the audience today in the ultra-luxury field would be looking for, or they may not know what they are looking for, but then once they experience it they come back. And that’s certainly something that we often hear where people were not expecting all that, and then you couple that with the service, and you have a win. Ultimately, the judge is the guest.

Some of the changes we are making are for example the new announcement of a restaurant which is coming up. All the adjustments we are making are directly related to our audience. 96% of the guests at Atlantis Royal are new guests to Atlantis and this is now their first experience. So the feedback we received is treated as a gift, and we treat it as an opportunity for us to go and take that and act upon it, whether it’s launching a new restaurant, new services we offer,adjustments from an asset point of view etc. One of the things we realised is that even though we have over 100 suites, it’s not enough. So we are converting rooms to suites, once again. This is important because it comes directly from what our guests say, like what are they buying, and what are they looking for. And it’s responding to that very quickly. Some things take a little longer with a bit more strategic approach, and others we can step in immediately.

What adjustments did you make to the people and culture since the opening?

We hired the best in the business and that has been our focus. We more than quadrupled our team in the last four years. Today, we have this incredible team that is very strong in terms of performance and in terms of delivering extraordinary service.

Now it’s about maybe tweaking. So we continue to develop our team and one thing we have heard loud and clear from our team is that they are pleased with the brands, they love working with Atlantis. There is a great sense of pride associated with Atlantis. Ultimately, people are hungry to develop and what better place than Atlantis to be able to create a career?
We have some great success stories of people who joined the company and are currently in director roles, and vice president roles at Atlantis. That is a journey that we need to take very seriously because we have the opportunity to help people grow: start as a waiter at the pool on the beach and grow your career in fine dining and then in food and beverage management.
But it doesn’t stop with the more traditional hospitality roles in restaurants and rooms, you can also make a great career in marketing, public relations, finance etc.

There are so many unsuspected elements. For example, we care for 65,000 marine animals, so you can make a career as a marine biologist or veterinarian.

There are so many different components to Atlantis that offer a very exciting career opportunity for our people.

What are the key qualities you look for in talent for the Atlantis brand?

We’ve identified that service comes from the heart. So we are looking for people that want to be of service, want to create great memories. And that’s why I joined the industry.

We are a great organisation where we can teach the technical aspects of very different roles within the hospitality field. I think that the DNA that we are looking for, are people who want to create intuitive moments whereby they pick something up about why the guests are there or why they’re celebrating specific moments in time and what are their likes, dislikes and preferences, and are excited about leaning into that. It is something that we want to encourage. I think one cannot teach kindness and that service attitude. In many ways, it comes from your upbringing, from where you grew up, from your emotional intelligence.

From there, we cultivate that opportunity to ensure that people are successful in their careers and support them with more of the technical aspects of the role.

What do the on-boarding and development programs entitle at Atlantis The Royal?

Your journey with Atlantis starts with a full-week orientation program. And then from there on you go to the areas where you’ll be working. Typically, you will have a buddy who is attached to you, a person who kind of teaches you what your particular role is and so forth. There is then the job training, we guide you along your career. But beyond that, there are also very specific programs whereby if you’re a lifeguard today, there will be certain requirements in terms of CPR and so forth. Those are repetitive programs.

There are also opportunities to learn and to grow in very specific fields, and we have a phenomenal opportunity for people to do exposure in other departments where they can go and try it out.

So we have assistant manager programs for example among a range of programs to ensure that we continue to grow and develop our team. It is a great place to work from that point of view.

We now have 7,000 colleagues between the two Atlantis, and when you look at the partnerships with our sister hotels, not just the Atlantis but also within Kerzner, we have people that started at Atlantis that are now general mangers in Mexico. So people can make great careers. The mobility can be in different roles, in different parts of the world.

Lifeguard Vivienne by Louis Vuitton in one the gardens at Atlantis The Royal

Lifeguard Vivienne by Louis Vuitton in one the gardens at Atlantis The Royal
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

Partial view of the entrance hall at Atlantis The Royal
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

Dolce Gabbana x Ounass offers a branded top pool experience
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

The Viviennes: Jetsetter, Lifeguard, Shutterbug, Sailor, Roller and Wanderlust
Photo credit © Sonia Taourghi / Journal des Palaces

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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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