Friday November 4th, 2011

ATLANTIS is anticipating a "very strong" peak February-April winter season, Kerzner International (Bahamas) president said yesterday, with bookings for the first two months of that period 35 per cent up on 2011 comparative levels.

While emphasising that the booking picture could change frequently, George Markantonis, who is also the company's managing director, said that driven by "very strong group bookings", April 2012's bookings were currently up on the same month this year by 28 per cent.

Telling Tribune Business that Atlantis's Thanksgiving occupancy levels were likely to be in the 90 percentage point range, compared to 53 per cent for both 2009 and 2010, as a result of hosting the 'Battle 4 Atlantis' collegiate basketball tournament, Mr Markantonis said the company was aiming to host the event for 10 years.

As for group business, Mr Markantonis said Atlantis expected to finish 2011 some 33 per cent up on 2010 levels. For 2012, this category was running 18-20 per cent ahead of this year.

However, the Kerzner International (Bahamas) said it would not likely be until 2013 before Atlantis started to see business levels approaching those achieved prior to the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse and peak recession, adding that this still depended on the health of the US and world economy.

"We're very encouraged by how the winter bookings are going," Mr Markantonis told Tribune Business. "The winter booking pace is up, and I think we're going to see very strong February, March and April months. May's looking a little soft right now.

"We're very pleased and ahead of pace for February, March and April. Right now, thanks to some very strong group bookings, we're tracking 35 per cent ahead for February and March, and 28 per cent ahead with April. A lot of that is due to group bookings."

Explaining that May tended to be "a shoulder month", Mr Markantonis said Atlantis would look to stimulate demand, and create excitement, for its Paradise Island product with concert weekends and other special events.

It has used these to successfully drive occupancy during the depths of the recession, although room rates and yields seemingly remain down, as evidenced by the '60 per cent off' promotion the resort is currently running for the January-March period.

Meanwhile, Mr Markantonis said the decision to host the 'Battle 4 Atlantis' basketball tournament "really has worked for us", with the resort looking to host it for a 10-year stretch to drive occupancies and business levels at a relatively quiet time of year.

With 12 games set to be covered by 22 hours of television programming set to be beamed to a US audience, the Kerzner International (Bahamas) chief added: "We're probably going to run in the 90 per cent occupancy points for Thanksgiving. Both years prior we've run 53 per cent for that period.....

"I think we're just so encouraged by how its gone. It suggests we've made the right investment for the next 10 years. Ten years is our goal. That's our plan." On the group bookings side, Mr Markantonis said "the beauty of that strength is that it allows you to yield other bookings". Group bookings are traditionally booked far in advance, and provide a solid core around which resorts can arrange their leisure customers.

While Atlantis had expected to finish 2011 with group bookings up 33 per cent, as all business indicators pointed to this, and was ahead of this year for 2012, Mr Markantonis said there were "a lot of tentatives" the resort had to wait on before they were confirmed. "You don't want to count your chickens," he added.

Despite the improved booking pace, Mr Markantonis said Atlantis was "not there yet" in terms of recovering to pre-Lehman crash levels.

"If we get there, it's more likely that 2013 will be the year when we can start seeing those levels again, but that is very dependent on the world economy," he told Tribune Business.

Expressing optimism that the US would not fall into a so-called 'double-dip' recession, Mr Markantonis said of Atlantis's prospects: "Our metrics are looking good, and if the world is stable we should be the beneficiaries of that stability."

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