For elite travelers, it was Paris in the Roaring ’20s, Shanghai in the ’30s, and St. Tropez in the ’60s. With a $3.5 billion bankroll, the owner of Baha Mar, Sarkis Izmirlian, is hoping a mile of perfectly sandy beach and 1,000 square acres in The Bahamas will realize his vision of creating a resort worthy of being “the new Riviera.”
Five hotels, a Grand Hyatt, Mondrian, Rosewood, Melia, and Baha Mar Resort & Casino, join a 200,000-square-foot convention center and art gallery. There will be a nearly 100,000 square-foot-casino with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over a blend of outdoor pools, ocean, and the Jack Nicklaus 18-hole Signature golf course across the street. The 2008 recession that stalled the project in a twist of fate brought together the team that is leading the rush to the finish line.
In a hyper competitive market, former Disney marketing boss Denise Godreau and current Baha Mar CMO is charged with bringing Izmirlian’s vision to consumers and consumers into the resort. After a tour skirting cranes and bulldozers, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan talked to Godreau about why she’s happy to call Nassau home and how she plans to make the long awaited project worth the wait, no pixie dust necessary.
Elite Traveler: Are you still on track for a December opening?
Denise Godreau: From a marketing perspective we are moving very fast towards that date. We open for (consumer) bookings in July and that’s when most of our media push will start. Meetings book way in advance. We already have some meetings on the books for (as far out as) 2017. We are entertaining the who’s who of meeting planners and corporations.
ET: Is the plan to still have everything ready when you open in December?
DG: All the hotels and all the amenities, the golf, most of the restaurants are going to be open in December. The idea is on opening day you can get the full experience. As in any new resort you go from zero to 100 very fast, and we are not opening just one resort. We are opening five.
DG: This is a privately owned resort. There is a very clear vision, and we all fell in love with it or we wouldn’t be here. Sarkis wanted Baha Mar to have something for everyone. If you want ultra luxury, and price is not an object, you have three bedroom suites at Rosewood. But you can also be a successful 55-year old entrepreneur who came from nothing, has lots of money, but doesn’t necessarily always want to spend it. You want to stay in a luxury resort, are happy with a normal studio room. You might even want to use points. You can stay at the Grand Hyatt and have a great experience. You can be very loud, very naughty, and go to Mondrian. You can be very private at Rosewood (private yacht inspired Lobby Bar above; colonial era referenced lobby sitting area below), or you can bring your family and stay at the Melia with the all-inclusive experience. We wanted to create a place that had a common soul, like that which you have with your friends. You have the common thread, but you are all a bit different.
ET: Can you give us an update on the food and beverage concepts?
DG: We’re going to have over 30 restaurants, lounges, and bars. There is going to be a rum bar, a cigar lounge, and dining by the beach. We’ll make an announcement in the next 30 days, but the strategy is not what people expect. We have leaned away from celebrity chefs. We will have a few restaurants people will recognize, and the rest are amazingly good restaurants that Sarkis has experienced. The difference is there are currently only one or two restaurants so ours will be the second or third. The restaurants’ will have a narrative that belongs to Baha Mar. We didn’t want to have the same thing that somebody does in New York or Las Vegas. It’s a little risky. We want people to come here and say, “Why don’t I have this in my city?” or “the only other place I’ve seen this is in the south of France or Argentina.”
ET: Can you update us on the real estate offerings?
DG: We have 280 residential units for sale. There are 87 one, two, and three bedroom residences at Rosewood and five four-bedroom villas that serve as single-family homes. Mondrian has 107 one, two, and, three bedroom residences, and Grand Hyatt has 85 one, two, and, three bedroom residences.
ET: What about the 25,000-square-foot Lenny Kravitz-designed villa?
DG: It’s not part of the real estate, and you can’t even pay to stay in it. You have to be a rated casino player. But the residences are in the hotel inventory, and there are going to be amazing suites for every taste.
DG: We have chosen about 75 percent of our retailers. We’re going to have some very cool, unique experiences as part of the retail, but we are also going to have flagship locations from some top brands. It’s about 60 days from an announcement.
ET: Recently Baha Mar appointed a Creative Director. That’s not typical at a resort?
DG: It’s not typical. It really speaks to Sarkis’ passion and vision for art. He knew from the beginning he wanted this resort to have an amazing art collection. We started with several partnerships and we quickly understood we needed somebody full-time. The project is too big, and it’s not a one-time deal. It’s about making art and culture an integral part of the Baha Mar experience, and John Cox is amazing. Art is natural for the affluent audience we want to attract. He and I are always trying to figure out how to do things a little bit of a difference.
ET: One doesn’t necessarily put Nassau and art together though?
DG: The Nassau art experience is unexpected. My parents collected a lot of Puerto Rican art, so very early on, when I moved here, I went to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. There was an exhibit was Kendall Hanna, who is in his seventies, but his art is very abstract. To come into this museum in The Bahamas and have it full of vibrant modern art was like wow. It is a progressive art scene here.
ET: And is there potential for more development?
DG: The Wyndham hotel (not part of Baha Mar campus) is part of this ownership group, and could be developed into a new hotel, residential development, or whatever else the campus needs. It’s here for potential, and we have additional land that we could build hotels on in the future.
ET: What else should our audience know about Baha Mar?
DG: For your clientele, we will have an ESPA spa. It will be beautiful with ocean views. Overall, the aesthetics of Baha Mar are not a theme, they are just natural beauty. They are core to the place. The rooms are bright, elegant, sophisticated, but at the same time comfortable. It’s the type of place that you will feel comfortable lingering.
In part two, Godreau discusses why she left a top corporate post at Disney and discovered her passion for start-ups.