Audrey Oswell, President & MAnAging directOr: AtlAntis, PArAdise islAnd in the BAhAMAs
Can Faik meets Audrey Oswell, the creative visionary leading Atlantis, Paradise Island’s world-renowned success…
Atlantis, Paradise Island is an oceanside resort located on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. A dynamic destination that launched 20 years ago as a first- of-its-kind modern marvel of nature and engineering, Atlantis has embarked on a new chapter tied to a meaningful connection with the ocean, Bahamian culture and the spirit of the property’s over 7,300 employees. The resort’s new, immersive programming connects guests to the rich history, art, people, food and festivities of The Bahamas.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Atlantis, Paradise Island?
My hospitality industry career actually began as a summer job, in conjunction with my university graduation. I graduated from school with a degree in Education and initially thought that I would end up taking that career path, but after receiving the opportunity to work in the hotel and casino industry and learning from some of the most respected industry veterans, I knew I was in the right place for me. I accepted my first official corporate job at Caesars Atlantic City and have never looked back. Over the years, I have served in various executive leadership positions including Chief Executive Officer at Resorts Atlantic City, President of Caesars Atlantic City, and Chief Operating Officer at the Cosmopolitan and Fontainebleau Resorts in Las Vegas. Most recently, before returning to Atlantis, Paradise Island (I was previously Chief Gaming Officer from 2011-2013), I held the roles of Chief Operations Officer and Chief Executive Officer for Seneca Gaming Corporation in New York.
What does your current position involve?
My role is truly comprised of a little bit of everything. I am responsible for the oversight of Atlantis, Paradise Island, which includes business development and the development and execution of strategic direction and growth of the company, as well as the executive leadership and integration of the overall guest and employee experience, while managing the day-to-day operations of the resort.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I truly enjoy the diversity of my role and the fact that no two days are ever the same in this industry. Hospitality is a social business, regardless of one’s role and to excel, one must fundamentally enjoy people and have an inherent respect for diversity, which, fortunately for me, I do. Whether it is interacting with guests of the resort, business partners and stakeholders, or one of my 7,300 colleagues, I find myself interacting with people from all different parts of the world and all walks of life. I also enjoy that every day is an opportunity to learn something new. The daily care of marine life and their extraordinary habitats is something I never had the chance to oversee in previous roles, and I find it fascinating that I get to work every day with over 165 on-property marine life experts (ranging from animal behaviourists to aquarists) as well as a talented culinary, master electricians and hotel staff that have worked at the resort for over 40 years. They have some of the best stories. Atlantis has one of the largest open-air marine habitats in the world and we exhibit over 250 different marine life species, including manta rays (one of only two places in the western hemisphere that studies these animals). Did you know that after 30 years, turtles will return to the beach they were born on to nest? Now, how is that for a family dinner conversation? By far, though, the greatest pleasure of my role at Atlantis is getting to walk the resort each day and seeing adults and children in awe of our resort and the daily experiences they participate in. From our interactive marine life adventures to the waterslides at our 141-acre waterscape (Aquaventure) and the warm and authentic Bahamian hospitality offered by our employees, getting to watch people experience Atlantis is a privilege. To be responsible for it is a gift!
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
The greatest challenge is garnering alignment between ownership and management. I chose the word ‘garnering’ because that doesn’t always happen without effort. Once there is alignment between ownership and management, management can focus on delivering on our brand promise – ‘Blow Away the Customer’ – day in and day out. As part of this promise, we always want to ensure we deliver our guests the most authentic experiences, complete with immersive programming that connects guests to the rich history, art, people, food, festivities and marine life of The Bahamas (we are ‘Bahamas At Heart’).
What will Atlantis, Paradise Island have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition, especially in the luxury hospitality sector?
Fortunately for our resort and team of tenured hospitality veterans, we are not easily copied or imitated. Our infrastructure and product offerings are one-of-a-kind and there are not many destinations like Atlantis that exist in the world today. That is what keeps us relevant. As a multi-generational resort, we truly have something for EVERYONE. Many of our visitors at Atlantis are repeat guests; they come as children, adults and again as parents. Regardless of which sector one competes in, one must always deliver on the guest experience. As generational interests have changed, we learned that it is imperative to change how we communicate with our guests and what we share with them. Some of our daily practices that were previously considered ‘behind-the-scenes’ are more interesting to our guests than we had originally thought.
As Atlantis, Paradise Island celebrates their 20-year anniversary this year what will be the focus for the next five years?
Atlantis has always been and will always be a place that evolves naturally with the incredible Bahamian culture and diverse marine life that constitutes the heart of our experience. That being said, while the centrepiece of our resort is the ocean and the life within it, we aspire to inspire through FUN. Right now, Aquaventure pushes the boundaries of what guests envision of a waterscape, river rides and slides. I promise you that in the next five years, we will deliver more immersive experiences that no one has yet imagined!
What are Atlantis, Paradise Island unique selling points?
Atlantis, Paradise Island is an iconic and majestic multi-generational resort that offers something for every type of traveller (singles, couples, and families), every budget (we have five different hotel accommodations on-property), and every personality type. There is absolutely no age limit or restrictions when it comes to delivering the ultimate guest experience. Whether it is a quiet afternoon relaxing on our pristine, white-sand beaches, family trips to Aquaventure (our 141-acre waterscape) complete with thrilling slides, water rides and pools, or dancing under the stars with vibrant, local Junkanoo troupes, nothing is off limits at Atlantis. We are one-of-a-kind and want our guests to be part of something that they can’t find anywhere else.
Atlantis also has one of the largest open-air marine habitats in the world and our team is able to offer our guests a multitude of marine interactive experiences, whether it be a chance to spend time with the rescued Katrina Dolphins and Sea Lions at Dolphin Cay, feeding the sting rays or baby turtles in their sanctuaries or getting a behind-the-scenes look at the 50,000+ marine animals that call the resort home and are studied and cared for by the our team of 165+ aquarists, marine biologists, and sea keepers.
We are also a resort that is not afraid of change, when it means enhancing the Atlantis experience for our guests. To us, Atlantis means evolution (‘Bahamas At Heart’) and we want our guests to be in touch with local culture, feel a ‘sense of place’ when they step on-property, and form a connection with this incredible country they are visiting. Our guests are able to get an authentic taste of The Bahamas without having to leave the resort. If they want to indulge in the best conch salad in town, we have it in our backyard (at Marina Village). If they want to discover soul-stirring art installations by some of the most renowned local artists and sculptors, we have them throughout the resort. We take pride in collaborating with some of the most brilliant minds in the community and having a resort full of staff who take pride in sharing stories about their Bahamian traditions with our guests every day.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Certainly. The trend to make hotel rooms naturally feel more residential, coupled with key elements of one’s actual home, continues. Additionally, the trend towards environmentally appropriate in-room amenities and services continues to be top of mind for many consumers and the designers behind some of the most impressive products in the world. Recently, I have noticed design embracing nature, outdoors and the ‘sense of place’ mind-set. Even in areas with seasonality, I see more transferable space that allows for open-air settings, even in colder climates. I believe that in-room technology continues to lag behind.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
It truly depends on the brand. When your brand is built around hotel design, then design becomes one of the most important elements. My belief as both a hotelier and a consumer is that people today prefer clean, fresh and naturally lit spaces. They also demand convenience. The days of heavy, overdone design elements are gone (at least for now). Clean and well-maintained accommodations and public areas continue to be important for today’s consumers, who have much more critical eyes than yesterday’s. There is the expectation that design will afford the comforts of home. A beautiful room by itself is a beautiful room, so as hospitality experts it is extremely important that we offer that to our guests but also go beyond room aesthetics and deliver an incredible guest experience & service culture.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
I’ve had the great fortune to visit many beautiful hotels and resorts around the world, but some of my personal favorites are The St. Regis in New York City, San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California and Castello di Casole in Tuscany.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
Work life balance takes discipline – self-discipline that is. You have to be able to disengage at the appropriate times. If you surround yourself with good, positive people that you trust, then the idea of balance becomes much easier.