By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar has "nailed" the design of its Rosewood hotel, the brand's president said yesterday, adding he was "absolutely delighted" it did not go through with a previously-threatened exit.
Radha Arora, speaking ahead of yesterday's opening, told Tribune Business that Rosewood's arrival in The Bahamas had been "a long time coming" but "first impressions" - which can "make or break the client experience" - had exceeded the brand's expectations.
He added that the 237-room Rosewood Baha Mar resort could easily "rub shoulders" with other high-end resorts in its global property portfolio, which includes hotels throughout the Caribbean, US, Europe and Asia.
Last evening's opening marked Rosewood's Bahamian debut, and Mr Arora said "pent up demand" for its Baha Mar property was such that it indicated travellers had been "waiting with bated breath" for its completion.
He praised both the quality of Baha Mar's physical product and the Rosewood's 450 staff, adding that they had "upheld" the brand's philosophy while combining well with Bahamian culture to create a "sense of place" to set the resort apart from its other hotels.
"My first impression is they've nailed it," Mr Arora told Tribune Business of Baha Mar. "Right from arrival, the first experience, the first impression, where you can potentially make or break the client experience, it's been great.
"In meeting the staff, the way they're looking in their eyes, you know there's a spark... I've just been here a short while, but my first impressions are that - be it through the authentic product experience or the team delivering the product experience - they have upheld the culture really well. It can only get better.
"I'm really proud of what I've seen so far, and I'm confident the culture us really going to be upheld here."
Rosewood is Baha Mar's high-end, luxury resort offering with room rates averaging around $500 per night. Mr Arora credited Luigi Romaniello, Rosewood Baha Mar's managing director, and his team, together with the resort's four-month training programme, for preparing staff for last night's opening.
The Rosewood chief added that he was "absolutely delighted" the resort brand/operator had stayed with Baha Mar, having sought to exit in September 2015 after its original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Delaware federal courts.
Rosewood had then petitioned the court to lift a 'stay' so it could withdraw, arguing that its brand was being "diminished and tarnished" by its association with the Cable Beach-based project. It also alleged there were a number of "incurable defects" violating the two parties' agreements - such as the allegation that Baha Mar's then owner did not own the land upon which its hotel sits.
Rosewood, ironically, shares the same owner as Baha Mar in Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), as Mr Arora confirmed yesterday. He praised CTFE for making an additional $43 million investment in its Rosewood property, going $5 million 'over budget' on upgrades that meant it was the last of Baha Mar's three hotels to open.
"We're part of the CTFE umbrella. We're all connected, all part of one family," Mr Arora said. "We're delighted it's [Rosewood Baha Mar] finally come to fruition...
"There was a lot of investment, and additional exponential investment, that has gone into Rosewood. We were delighted with that. The brand has come a long way in the last two years. All of our destinations are wonderful destinations and amazing products. Thanks to CTFE for the additional investment, it's [Baha Mar] going to rub shoulders with all of our destinations."
These include The Carlyle in New York; Rosewood Bermuda; Rosewood Half Moon Bay in Antigua; and a host of Rosewood-branded properties throughout Europe and Asia.
Mr Arora acknowledged that Rosewood had been "a long time coming to the Bahamas", after Baha Mar went through "a bit of an impasse" with the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process and then provisional liquidation and receivership in the Bahamian courts, ultimately resulting in CTFE taking over ownership and an agreement to finance the $4.2 billion project's completion.
He added that CTFE's support had "absolutely exceeded our expectations", and said: "The project has been in development for such a long time, but we're delighted with what we've seen so far.
"This is brand new. We're proud of each one of our destinations. With the brand personality, it's obviously a business model but from our standpoint we love to engage with the local community and create employment opportunities.. I see this as another great destination for the brand."
Mr Arora told Tribune Business that Rosewood's booking mechanisms, and feedback from travellers and the wider tourism industry, suggested there was "a desire to come to Nassau" among potential visitors.
"If Baha Mar is successful, Rosewood is successful. Each brand has its marketing dollars that it will infuse," he said. "There's a lot of pent-up demand. Within our own community, the travel industry, we're thinking people have been waiting with bated breath for the opening of this property.
"Certainly, from the feedback we've had, and the inquiries we're getting, through group business, corporate business and individual travellers, there's a desire to come to Nassau. It's so close to the [US] east coast. It's safe haven and we think this property will be extremely successful."