The Birth of Baha Mar

Paul Pusateri, as the COO of Baha Mar, heads a $3.5 billion project that has been the most talked about in the Caribbean for the last few years.

It was roughly 10 years ago when longtime hotelier Paul Pusateri received a phone call from a savvy Switzerland-born businessman saying he wanted to “make his dream for The Bahamas come true” and he wanted Pusateri to help.

So, Pusateri, who was a casino-hotel executive at the time, hopped on a small plane to Nassau and toured the grounds of Cable Beach with the man behind the dream, Sarkis Izmirlian. There wasn’t a moment during that drive where Izmirlian wasn’t pointing to something he wanted knocked down or something he wanted moved or even a road he wanted built.

Niklaus Leuenberger, senior vice president of resort operations for Baha Mar, says advisors should target A-listers for “this glamorous hotel.”
 
Niklaus Leuenberger, senior vice president of resort operations for Baha Mar, says advisors should target A-listers for “this glamorous hotel.”

The end game was to create a new, sexy, chic resort that would add a shot of adrenaline back into a destination that has become somewhat complacent over the last decade and create something that would generate buzz not just among the Caribbean islands, but throughout the world.

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The vision was Baha Mar, but the dream seemed too far-fetched for Pusateri at the time.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, what an ambitious project,’” Pusateri tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “It took him a little bit longer to get things going than I was looking for, so I went somewhere else. Then 10 years later, I ended up being connected with a casino management company, which I had a long history with, and they talked to me about this project and coming down and meeting this guy Sarkis, whom I, of course, knew. When we came back together, it was a great reunion.

“That’s when he asked me to basically become the chief operating officer [COO],” continues Pusateri, “and spearhead these four [now five] different brands and the opening, and helping on the operating side to get this up and running. That’s how it came to pass and it’s been one hell of a run for the past year and a half.”

And Pusateri’s change of heart may have been the best move he has made in his career in the hotel business, as he now proudly wears the COO hat of a $3.5 billion project that has been the most talked about in the Caribbean for the last few years.

Baha Mar, which is just weeks from introducing VIPs to a new level of luxury in The Bahamas, is a resort development that will house five top-level hotels — Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, SLS LUX at Baha Mar, Rosewood at Baha Mar and Melia at Baha Mar — and is intended to be a destination within a destination in the Caribbean.

“We all wanted to think about what the best way for us to integrate would be,” says Pusateri. “You take that experience level of all these guys. You put all their heads together, and I think you come up with something really unique in how to approach the synergies.”

Greg Saunders, general manager of the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, says, “We are a reward... They are being treated better than the best.”
 
Greg Saunders, general manager of the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, says, “We are a reward... They are being treated better than the best.”

And don’t be surprised to see other brands join the fold in the coming years, as Baha Mar certainly has the extra space to accommodate them. The project sits on 400 of a total 1,000 acres. Although Pusateri says the focus is currently solely on the existing brands, he did say one addition he would like to make is a helipad on the property.

“The airport is 10 minutes away, 15 at most by limousine,” says Pusateri. “By the time you get off your plane and get onto a helicopter and try to get up, you’re taking more time than if you just drove here. I think a helipad would be better for guests looking to go island hopping. There are 700 islands in The Bahamas, 47 are inhabited, and the most beautiful ones are always the ones that are not inhabited. People take off in their boats and spend a day at some of the most pristine beaches. We have one island called Harbour Island, a beautiful beach with pink sand. I think that’s where the helicopter would be fun for people.”

So what will this new mega resort do to The Bahamas’ current reigning champion of resorts, Atlantis? If you ask consumers, they will tell you Baha Mar is Atlantis’ worst nightmare, but if you ask Pusateri and his team, they will tell you one resort cannot exist without the other.

“We have a price point that will separate us,” says Pusateri. “We are not pursuing the cruise ships to come and unload and build that traffic. Our customers will have a desire to have a more reserved environment because they’re paying for it, so they want to have that experience. I think what we end up doing is we raise the mark, hopefully for all these hotels, including Atlantis. We bring more awareness. We bring more customers. Atlantis people are going to come over to our hotels at night to try the restaurants and our people are going to go over and try the Atlantis experience.”

After the project’s concept and plans were tweaked a few times since Izmirlian’s vision, ground finally broke in 2011 and advisors have been champing at the bit to sell it ever since.

“I think we put together a very good framework or skeleton of how this should work, and I think over the past year, year-and-a-half, we’ve been putting all of the flesh on the bones and really fine-tuning it just through practical experience,” says Pusateri.

Xavier Moulin, general manager of SLS LUX at Baha Mar, emphasizes the novelty of the five-brands-in-one idea.
 
Xavier Moulin, general manager of SLS LUX at Baha Mar, emphasizes the novelty of the five-brands-in-one idea.

Pusateri joined the casino industry in 1996 as president of Paris Las Vegas, where he oversaw the development and opening of the Las Vegas Strip resort while also serving as president of its sister property, Bally’s Las Vegas. He then went on to become senior vice president of The Venetian and The Palazzo resorts on the Strip, overseeing the operations of two of the most successful casinos in the U.S.

He has also served in senior positions with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, including the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco, Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

“I think that coming here, for me personally, was about taking on a challenge of opening up this property,” says Pusateri. “I had done some openings in the past. Those were big operations. This was special and it was working in The Bahamas. What I had no idea of what would happen is that you’re not only opening up a building and a company and a campus, you’re really having an impact on a country.”

And that impact can be found not only in the thousands of jobs the project is expected to create when it opens, but the jobs it will create in the future as well. Baha Mar has a program called the Leadership Development Institute (LDI). It is a three-month program whereby any young professional living in The Bahamas can enroll. During the free program, students learn all the basics of providing good service in the hospitality industry and are guaranteed a job at Baha Mar when they graduate. Or they can drop out after one to two months with no penalty and they still leave with one to two months of vital experience, which will help them find a job in the industry. We were told there have been 650 graduates already.

Besides creating new jobs on the islands, Pusateri is expecting the resort to generate bigger and better flights to The Bahamas from markets that extend from the U.S. to Latin America to China.

“What has always happened in every city in development that I’ve been involved with [is] the airlines figure it out first,” says Pusateri. “As soon as they begin seeing things starting to develop, they start shifting and making arrangements for flights. We’ve negotiated and contracted with different airlines to increase lift. We need to pick up between 400,000 and 500,000 more seats on flights to get in here. Our strategy has been to negotiate with airlines to guarantee that lift from the locations where our marketing efforts are focused.”

And Luxury Travel Advisor doesn’t expect many of Pusateri’s desired 400,000-500,000 airplane seats to be empty as Baha Mar should attract just about every client in the book.

Luis Fernandes, managing director of Rosewood at Baha Mar, says his focus is on thinking of ways to infuse Bahamian heritage into the brand.
 
Luis Fernandes, managing director of Rosewood at Baha Mar, says his focus is on thinking of ways to infuse Bahamian heritage into the brand.

If advisors are booking corporate clients, they should target the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar. For VIPs traveling with families or couples looking for some quiet, classic luxury and exceptional food, book Rosewood at Baha Mar. For the younger, trendier VIP with an appetite for nightlife and a hip pool scene, advisors should book the SLS LUX at Baha Mar, which represents the first SLS property outside of the U.S. And the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel is simply a perfect fit for anyone, especially high-rolling gamers.

The all-inclusive lover won’t be left out either. Melia Nassau Beach will also be part of the development, but not necessarily when Baha Mar opens this month. The property needs to complete its second phase of renovations, which includes a full makeover of all guest rooms, before it officially changes its name to Melia at Baha Mar and gets the official Baha Mar stamp of approval.

Baha Mar will also exhibit the largest collection of Bahamian art in The Bahamas, with works on loan from the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) and the largest art collectors in the country — the D’Aguilar Art Foundation (DAF) and the Dawn Davies collection. These works will be curated for rotating exhibitions under the guidance of the in-house art department.

“We always think about the customer coming here and what’s their experience going to be,” says Pusateri. “You think of it from that perspective. I think a great example is that all of the hotels have really garnered the fact that you could be a free-standing Hyatt, you could be a free-standing Rosewood, you could be a free-standing SLS in a particular market in the competition, but if you are free-standing in this complex, you have the power of that Baha Mar brand.”

Baha Mar Casino & Hotel

The flagship hotel of the resort, Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, is expecting to attract high-rollers with its casino, which is not your grandmother’s casino with old ladies pulling “Betty Boop” slot machines in a dark, windowless cave.

Instead, think more a Monte Carlo type of atmosphere where the James Bonds and the Grace Kellys of the world will congregate over some high-stakes poker before going to the bar for a post-gaming cocktail, all while enjoying sweeping views of the beach and Baha Mar’s many pools.

Niklaus Leuenberger, senior vice president of resort operations for Baha Mar, says advisors should be targeting A-listers who are in the $150,000 annual-income bracket for this hotel.

“This casino looks like it could be in any of the other major gaming destinations in the world — Singapore, Vegas,” says Leuenberger. “It will give off that world flair feeling with retail shops and so on. It will be very glamorous.”

Of note as well is Villa Roxie, a residence featuring interior designs by Kravitz Design, the creative firm of multi-platinum musician Lenny Kravitz, who named the villa after his mother, the actress Roxie Roker.

Pusateri says this villa is meant to be booked for celebrities, and there’s a $100,000-a-night rate to ensure this type of clientele. So, what do you get for a $100,000 a night?

“It’s the location and it’s the amenities,” says Pusateri. “It includes everything from private air to fly you in, depending on where you’re coming from. The airfare, accommodations and services are included, as well as full 24/7 butler service and your own private gaming salon.”

TPC at Baha Mar, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, offers play through both water features and in-land forest.
 
TPC at Baha Mar, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, offers play through both water features and in-land forest.

Leuenberger joined Baha Mar in June 2014. In addition to overseeing operations management for the entire resort, his responsibilities also include operations management for the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel.

“This is my seventh hotel opening,” says Leuenberger. “You either love openings or you hate them, but I always felt the opening was so unique. You get to teach the property how to walk, how to grow, like bringing a child into the world and when it opens, you think, ‘Wow, this is mine. I did this.’ I like the challenge of taking a team from all walks of life and have them work as a team. It’s exciting, and it’s never the same, yet at the end of the day you can say, ‘Mission accomplished.’”

Rosewood at Baha Mar

Rosewood at Baha Mar is being touted to VIPs looking for a high-end experience with top-of-the–line cuisine. Baha Mar will supply lots of entertainment at night and an overall bustling scene. This is the resort where VIPs go to get away from the noise when they’re not helping to create it.

“Rosewood is that very exclusive enclave with all 200 rooms facing the ocean,” says Luis Fernandes, managing director of Rosewood at Baha Mar. “All those guests can go to the casino and enjoy all of the facilities, [and]can go around and enjoy all of the dining options. When the night is over or when they want to relax, they go back to their enclave of tranquility, away from the hustle and bustle. The Rosewood guest who doesn’t want to go through the casino experience can still have a great resort experience and not even have to leave the resort.”

Rooms at Baha Mar Casino & Hotel have glass doors that look out to the sea.
 
Rooms at Baha Mar Casino & Hotel have glass doors that look out to the sea.

Fernandes is an accomplished hospitality executive with proven international experience in branding, maximizing operational performance and developing strong leaders through motivational teamwork. Over the last two decades, Fernandes has guided the course of world-acclaimed resorts and brands, building identities and forging partnerships with long-term benefits for all involved.

His career has taken him to some of the world’s most renowned luxury properties and diverse cultures, including Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve, where he literally reinvented the property, leading it into lucrative new markets, introducing a contemporary mindset and creating a vibrant culture of Portuguese hospitality that was previously nonexistent.

Fernandes says advisors should target younger and older couples; those celebrating anniversaries, honeymooners and all romantic getaways; celebrities; and families.

“My main focus is on not only preserving the heritage of The Bahamas, but thinking of ways to infuse that heritage into the brand,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “For example, we want to get someone on the island who makes the best conch salad and have him come in and show people how to prepare the best conch salad. We want to find that old lady who makes the best desserts on the island and bring her in to do a cooking class. We want to find the old lady who makes straw hats and bring her here to show guests how to make them. It’s seeing and doing. It’s experiential. That’s what people want these days.”

SLS LUX at Baha Mar

SLS LUX at Baha Mar will be the first SLS property outside of the U.S., so it’s safe to say it will be sparing no expense to make a great first impression internationally. This is a fit for younger, affluent clients looking for a chic, glamorous resort with a vibrant nightlife.

“We are talking more in terms of younger, affluent professionals between 35 and 50 years old,” says Xavier Moulin, general manager of SLS LUX at Baha Mar. “Through the stats we have done, we have a little more female clientele than male. This is for people who really want a customized vacation. That is the niche that we are really tackling.”

SLS LUX at Baha Mar guest rooms have Bahamian-designed furniture, walk-in rainfall shower and Ciel Spa bath amenities.
 
SLS LUX at Baha Mar guest rooms have Bahamian-designed furniture, walk-in rainfall shower and Ciel Spa bath amenities.

As general manager with San Francisco’s Personality Hotels, Moulin led the $15 million transformation and repositioning of Hotel Frank onto the luxury boutique market and subsequently managed Hotel Diva and Kensington Park Hotel on Union Square.

But he has never worked on a project quite like this, where five separate brands will have to work together as a single unit.

“I don’t think any of us have worked in an environment like this,” says Moulin. “We are all competing brands here, but we are all part of the same campus. We will all maintain our own guest database and guest-loyalty programs, but at the same time we will find ways to work that synergy. We need to have revenue management meetings that need to be combined, so that is very different. I have never had a revenue meeting with a Rosewood or a Hyatt in the room, so that will be interesting, but we will all make it work. If we are all successful, Baha Mar is successful.”

Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar

Although it has its share of leisure travelers as well, Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar is where advisors should be booking their corporate VIPs. Luxury Travel Advisor recommends booking travelers in any of the hotel’s Grand Club rooms. Grand Club members will have exclusive access to the Grand Club, with amenities such as private concierge services, enhanced continental breakfast options, evening hors d’oeuvres, a departure lounge and shower facilities.

Rosewood at Baha Mar’s accommodations have bespoke design that evokes British colonial architecture.
 
Rosewood at Baha Mar’s accommodations have bespoke design that evokes British colonial architecture.

Grand Hyatt has 85 residential units and 123 bedrooms that all include a full kitchen, which can be used to host a family and extended families. They can take a connected room to make a three-bedroom residence, so they can have their own rooms, but can also gather in a shared living and dining area.

“We are a reward,” says Greg Saunders, general manager of the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar. “People either reward themselves with a vacation or they are rewarded by a company or a job. We are providing experiences to exceed people’s expectations. They are being treated better than the best.”

Saunders is a senior executive with more than 34 years of experience with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Marriott International and MGM Mirage, specializing in the management of large convention hotels and casino properties. Saunders is well known in the industry and has an extremely strong sales and marketing background that includes pre-opening activities for new hotel properties. Saunders has held the position of senior vice president of operations at the MGM in Las Vegas and his experience with Hyatt has included serving as vice president and managing director of the Hyatt Regency Chicago and senior vice president of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“What I found really unique and very rewarding [about the Baha Mar project] is that we all have a tendency to spend a lot of time with one another,” says Saunders, “and through all those interactions, we have all learned from one another. We are getting back to practices that may be outside of our individual brand’s practices. I worked for Marriott and Hyatt for 30-plus years, so getting exposed to things that Rosewood has done or that SLS has done is very exciting.”

Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar has 85 residential units and 123 bedrooms that all include a full kitchen.
 
Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar has 85 residential units and 123 bedrooms that all include a full kitchen.

And although the meeting facilities at Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar are also another reason Atlantis could be facing some heavy competition, Saunders shared his hotel partners’ sentiments that a booming Atlantis and a flourishing Baha Mar is the ultimate goal.

“For us to be successful, we both have to be successful,” says Saunders. “If we try to pull customers away from Atlantis, we are not helping growth in The Bahamas, we are not growing the infrastructure, not growing the airlift to The Bahamas. If we both provide value and people go away saying, ‘That was better than I thought,’ then we both won.”

And that’s the real dream for The Bahamas.

Hotel Information

Baha Mar Casino & Hotel

As the centerpiece of Baha Mar, Baha Mar Casino & Hotel will be home to 100,000 square feet of gaming, featuring a full array of the latest slots and table games. There will be 1,000 luxury rooms at this hotel as well. Steps away, ESPA at Baha Mar will offer 30,000 square feet of relaxation, showcasing extensive views of Baha Mar’s pristine beaches.

Rosewood at Baha Mar

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will operate and manage Rosewood at Baha Mar, a 200-room luxury hotel with five luxurious beachfront villas. Rosewood at Baha Mar will also feature the intimate Sense, A Rosewood Spa.

SLS LUX at Baha Mar

SLS is a luxury lifestyle brand with signature hotels in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Miami Beach and several soon-to-open resorts in the U.S. and China. SLS LUX at Baha Mar will have 300 rooms, including 107 private residences.

Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar

Hyatt Hotels Corporation will operate and manage the 707-room hotel, Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, as well as the Baha Mar Convention, Arts & Entertainment Center. Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar will also offer 85 private residences.

Melia Nassau Beach Resort (soon-to-be Melia at Baha Mar)

Melia Hotels International, one of the world’s largest resort hotel chains, operates and manages the 694-room Melia Nassau Beach Resort. An existing property, the hotel is undergoing major renovations to bring it up to Baha Mar standards.

Advisor Insight

“Agents participating in Baha Mar’s Travel Agent University Program will learn detailed information about each of Baha Mar’s unique hotels, which will help them to better engage with their clients and ultimately sell this incredible destination and the glamorous New Riviera that Baha Mar represents,” says Virgil Napier, director of sales and marketing for Rosewood at Baha Mar.

“Upon completing the program, our travel specialist partners will not only have gained great insight on our resort setting but will be the first travel experts on the newest ultra-luxury setting in the Caribbean. This professional, continuing education program exemplifies why travel specialists are needed in this global age. They are the advocates and experts in a day when confusion from social media and reviews only answer a portion of the questions travelers have when planning their next trip. Travel agents bridge the gaps on what can be found on a smartphone to provide true, personal knowledge on the experience of luxury travel, bringing the best the world has to offer to their clients.”

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