By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Atlantis’s top executive believes the resort has achieved the impossible by selling tickets for its upcoming US college basketball tournament at a pace that is 15 per cent faster year-over-year.
George Markantonis, Brookfield Hospitality’s president and managing director, told Tribune Business that the ‘Battle 4 Atlantis’ tournament would result in 100 per cent occupancy at the Paradise Island resort over the key Thanksgiving holiday.
The tournament, now in its fourth year, has also helped Atlantis counter the effects of high air fares, which peak over the Thanksgiving weekend in the US due to travel demand.
And, despite a softer-than-anticipated year for group bookings, Mr Markantonis revealed to Tribune Business that Atlantis’s leisure bookings for fall 2014 were up 12 per cent.
“We’re going to run the same sold-out occupancy,” he added of the end-November Thanksgiving holiday. “Our ticket sales for the [Battle ‘4’ Atlantis] games are ahead of pace from last year by about 15 per cent.
“I didn’t think that was possible, but they are. I think it’s going to be another excellent Thanksgiving in November, and we’ve been spending quite a bit of time focusing on the 2015 tournament.”
‘Battle 4 Atlantis’ has rapidly established itself as one of the premier pre-season basketball tournaments for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams, and Mr Markantonis said the resort - and, by extension, the Bahamas - would receive a further boost from this year’s TV coverage switch.
The tournament will this year be covered, for the first time, by ESPN, arguably the world’s leading specialist sports channel, which Mr Markantonis expects to translate into higher viewer numbers.
He explained that selecting the teams to feature in ‘Battle 4 Atlantis’ well in advance enabled fans and alumni to set their travel plans early, countering the traditionally high Thanksgiving air fares.
“The other reason we’re so thankful is that everyone knows that the most expensive air fares fall over the Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s a testament to the tournament that we get this level of demand,” Mr Markantonis told Tribune Business.
While acknowledging that Atlantis was always “optimistic” and “felt we had a great idea” in its basketball tournament, Mr Markantonis said the results had exceeded expectations.
The top Atlantis executive, meanwhile, said a year-over-year improvement in the resort’s leisure business had helped to counter the softness it had experienced in its group bookings.
“We’re trending at about a 12 per cent increase in leisure business for the fall,” Mr Markantonis told Tribune Business, suggesting this might have stemmed from either Atlantis’s marketing campaigns or increased consumer confidence/willingness to travel in its main source markets.
He added: “Our leisure pace has been very, very good. October has been much stronger in leisure pace. It’s been better than our leisure pace has been before.”
Still, with October usually among the slowest months in the Bahamian tourism calendar, Mr Markantonis said the total impact had been to push Atlantis’s occupancy levels for the month had risen from the mid-40 per cents to the high 40 per cents.
He added that November pre-Thanksgiving was “very quiet”, blaming “timing” issues for a year-over-reduction in group room nights.
“December is very strong this year, starting from the 21st. We’re focused on that, and are launching a new advertising campaign in early 2015,” Mr Markantonis said.