No Slowing Down
A Q&A with Sol Kerzner
By Jana Schiowitz
In his almost 50-year career, Sol Kerzner, chairman and CEO of Kerzner International Holdings Limited, has opened more than 50 resorts across several global markets, founded both of South Africa's largest hotel groups, and was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for outstanding contributions made to business and communities in the Bahamas, achieving Royal Knighthood this past December. Not to mention that the hotel and gaming entrepreneur was recently honored several times over: receiving the ILTM UltraTravel Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to travel in Cannes; the Variety Club Children's Charity's Lifetime Achievement Award for raising money for sick, disabled, and disadvantaged children; Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration's Hospitality Innovator of the Year Award; and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Albert E. Koehl Lifetime Achievement Award. There's no stopping the 75-year-old—he frequents the Kerzner properties, spends time between his four homes, and continues to reinvent the resort industry one brand at a time. Here, Kerzner sheds light on believing in the power of social media, what makes the perfect destination, and determination as a lesson learned.
HD: You were recently honored with several lifetime achievement awards. Did you ever think you would come this far?
SK: When I started working in hospitality in 1962, I wanted to do one thing: blow away the customer. Forty years and over 50 resorts later, this philosophy remains the core value of Kerzner International. To create something so spectacular, so unbelievable it feels like a living fantasy. When people go on vacation, they want to escape their everyday lives and it is my job as a hotelier to imagine and create a world where they can do just that.
HD: What kind of sacrifices have you made along the way?
SK: Time on the road and away from my family. I'm 75 now and still working as hard as I did when I was 30. The tough economic conditions over the past few years have required my team to work harder than ever before. I have never known tough trading conditions like we have lived through recently and
this adds a lot of stress. I love what I do and always have. I tend not to think of things that I need to do for work as sacrifices.
HD: What is the key to staying innovative and successful?
SK: I have always believed that to be successful in the hotel world you must be able to adapt and reinvent yourself. Always take into account the fundamentals like natural assets and the destination. Entertainment has always been a key component of the Kerzner resort product. Sometimes we do this on a smaller scale, like having a great band in a restaurant, and other times, we do it on a much larger scale like the many events we stage at our resorts, such as the Atlantis LIVE concert series with musical artists such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift; Battle 4 Atlantis, an eight-team pre-season men's college basketball tournament; the Miss Universe pageant; etc. In both Atlantis properties, the Bahamas and Dubai, we have built facilities for conferences that also serve as venues for entertainment events.
This is especially true when talking about social media. I must admit, even I was a skeptic at first. How could something like Facebook or Twitter change the landscape of the travel industry? It just didn't seem possible. And yet, here I am today, believing in the power of social media. Atlantis and One&Only are able to be part of the online conversation and in turn, gain some valuable insight on our own product. We quickly determined that to be successful in this new world, a resort must remain authentic and relevant. By doing this, our fans become the brand ambassadors. Today our posts range from seasonal deals to updates on the marine life at Dolphin Cay. Word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful force and we are finding that the younger and more tech-savvy audience relies on these crowd-sourced reviews like Twitter and Facebook to make their travel plans.
HD: Your career spans more than 45 years. What is the most important lesson learned?
SK: My determination and persistence to never give up and to get things done is the best way I can describe what I have learned. Some people call it courage. I don't really know what to call it. In this competitive world, some people get the lucky breaks and take risks that pay off and others don't always get it right or have good luck. It¹s the way the world works fortunately or unfortunately—depends on where you are and what you want.
HD: What does the idea of a perfect destination mean to you?
SK: With Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas I had an ideal climate, increasing airlift into the destination and the local government's support of tourism. You should research the competition and see how they are doing in the market. Make sure there is the potential to create something unique that the customer will respond to. For instance, with Atlantis, the Palm in Dubai, there was nothing else that existed like that hotel in the current marketplace. Be sure you can deliver great service. Always factor in the people and resources that will be required to train. And finally, take a hard look at the local business culture.
HD: How do you go about choosing locations for your properties?
SK: I always try to stay current with world trends and ideas. I like to know what's going on. In briefing my teams, I try to give them big ideas or the "essence" of the concept we are trying to create. I find that if you have chemistry with a group of talented people then the creative process usually flows well from there. Finally, you have to watch the competition very carefully. Not only in your specific sector, but also in related businesses like food and beverage, entertainment, music, and fashion.
HD: The One&Only brand is known for its one-of-a-kind, luxurious accommodations and personalized services. Why are these elements so important when providing a unique guest experience?
SK: The One&Only formula for success can be simplified into five basic concepts: added value, personal details, engaging programming, authenticity, and service. In order to remain top-of-mind, we have implemented a more comprehensive returning guest communication strategy that highlights these values. Our team has aggressively sought out like-minded partners to increase brand awareness and create innovative offerings for our guests. For example, we entered into a partnership with Physique 57, a workout system in New York City and Los Angeles, to create exclusive retreats at One&Only Ocean Club and One&Only Palmilla.
HD: During the last few years, your brands have expanded even more so across the globe. Why did you choose new markets like Dubai?
SK: I read a lot of periodicals and follow current affairs to learn about what is new in the world. For instance, when we were looking to expand in Dubai, we took into account that the Dubai Tourism Authority actively and effectively promotes the destination, not to mention Dubai has one of the best airlines in the world. We continue to watch and search for new emerging markets to destinations that provide attractive offers and incentives.
HD: How is One&Only the Palm different from its sister properties?
SK: We believe the government's continuous commitment to developing tourism in the region combined with all the destination has to offer and its easy international access makes it the perfect place for us to expand the One&Only portfolio. One&Only the Palm, which opened in November, is comprised of just 90 keys and four private beachfront villas. It is Dubai's first true beach resort and acts as a private residential-style escape for guests to enjoy spectacular views of the city skyline in a chic and very boutique setting.
Pictured from top left: Sol Kerzner; One&Only Cape Town (four photos); One&Only the Palm, Dubai