Better Bahamas Values: One on One With Bill Naughton
One of the Caribbean’s most unusual resort relationships exists in the Paradise Island district of Nassau, Bahamas, where the mega-resort Atlantis exists side-by-side with the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, a value-oriented hotel property.
Surprisingly, the David-and-Goliath properties enjoy a very close relationship. Credit for that goes in large part to Bill Naughton, the hotel’s managing partner. Naughton negotiated an agreement that allows Comfort Suites guests to have full access to Atlantis facilities. The arrangement allows travelers who want to experience the mega-resort but can’t afford its premium rates to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Naughton, who has directed millions of dollars into renovations at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island, also happens to be board chairman for the Paradise Island Tourism Development Association (PITDA), making him one of the Bahamas’ key tourism officials. We spoke with him recently about his own property and the wider Bahamas tourism scene.
TravelPulse: How would you describe your hotel’s business in 2015?
Bill Naughton: 2015 has been one of the best years ever for the Comfort Suites, Paradise Island. Much of that success can be attributed to the positive response from our recently completed $6.5 million transformation of the entire property. As evident in the reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, guests are blown away by the look and feel of our new property. The transformed product, combined with great customer service, has resulted in high repeat guest visits and new guests for whom we have exceeded expectations.
TP: The Comfort Suites is an affordable value hotel located next door to a mega-resort. How did that come about and how does that impact your operations?
BN: You are correct — Comfort Suites is the best value in the Bahamas and that is only enhanced by being next door to all that is available at Atlantis. Our guests are able to get a newly renovated junior suite and the quiet of a smaller hotel, while still being able to experience the Aquaventure at Atlantis and partake in all their facilities. It also allows guests the options of having a relaxed time by our wonderful pool with Swim Up bar and eat at our new restaurant Crusoe’s.
When the resort was originally planned, I was approached by Merv Griffin and the ownership group of the Paradise Island Resort and Casino at the time, as they were required by the government to add additional rooms on the island. We agreed to build the property adjacent to theirs with the stipulation that our guests would receive full access to their facilities in perpetuity. Operationally it does not really affect us at all. We are a completely independent, full-service property, where one of our guest amenities is full use of all Atlantis facilities. This fantastic amenity is in addition to all that we have to offer our guests at the Comfort Suites property including a beautiful pool, fabulous dining and outstanding customer service.
TP: Why was it important to arrange for Comfort Suites guests to have access to Atlantis?
BN: Interestingly, this arrangement far superseded the creation of the Atlantis Resort. I originally negotiated the ability for Comfort Suites guests to have full use of Atlantis with Merv Griffin and the ownership of the Resorts International Paradise Island Resort and Casino, allowing our guests full access to all of their facilities and their restaurants and lounges. When Sol Kerzner bought that property and transformed it into Atlantis, that contract was just rolled forward.
However, it is an incredible amenity to allow our guests to have full access of Atlantis facilities and the ability to charge back expenses incurred at all of Atlantis’s fabulous restaurants and lounges directly to their room account. I don’t know of many other similar arrangements around the world, so it is an important differentiator for us and helps make us a smart choice – which is what savvy travelers are increasingly seeking these days.
TP: How has the Comfort Suites hotel itself changed during your tenure?
BN: Our most dramatic change just recently occurred, where we completed the first major renovation of the property since we built the hotel 22 years ago. Over the past three years we have completely renovated every aspect of the resort including all 223 of our junior suites, all public areas including our pool bar, lobby area, bamboo lounge and the addition of our full service restaurant, Crusoe’s.
TP: What do you consider your biggest responsibility as PITDA’s board chairman?
BN: My role being chairman of PITDA has several different areas of responsibility. It is critical that we continue to attract visitors to our destination, and to generate more awareness through our sales and marketing channels. PITDA is also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of Paradise Island, ensuring that when visitors arrive they, in fact, feel that they have arrived in Paradise.
It is also my role to make sure that we take into consideration all of our member properties — from our large mega resort to our smaller villa properties, as Paradise Island is best known for having accommodations for every type of visitor.
TP: Tourism is critically important to the Bahamas, and Paradise Island is where a lot of the activity occurs. What programs is the association working on to continue hospitality growth and profitability?
BN: Paradise Island is constantly working to improve our tourism product. Each of our hotels continually make upgrades to what they are through renovations, new activities and tours, and a variety of dining and shopping options. Over the past few years we have added a straw market to the island, as guests were looking for more “local” shopping options, and we are currently in the process of developing an eco-tourism area of the island where visitors will be able to walk through a natural flamingo habitat adjacent to many of our hotels.
TP: The Baha Mar project is an 800-pound gorilla in the Bahamas not only because of the financial stakes involved, but because of its potential impact on Bahamas tourism. Observers have already questioned if there is sufficient demand to make the new resort profitable. Is there enough room for a successful mega-resort on Cable Beach AND a thriving Paradise Island resort district?
BN: Baha Mar is a very important part of tourism in the Bahamas for the foreseeable future. It is important for Baha Mar to be successful for all of us in the tourism industry in the Bahamas to be successful. While we do not feel Baha Mar will have a significant effect on the business at Comfort Suites, it will bring added room nights to our destination, which is why our role at PITDA is critically important. We work with our partners in the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to increase awareness to our destination and increase the demand for Paradise Island and the Bahamas at the same rate that our supply is increasing.
TP: What are the most important things travel agents and their clients should know about the Comfort Suites Paradise Island?
BN: Travel Agents are critical to the success of the Comfort Suites, as they have been the top source of bookings for us over the years. The key selling points for travel agents and their clients is Comfort Suites’ tremendous value. Guests get a newly renovated junior suite, full hot American breakfast daily, free Wi-Fi and of course full use of all Atlantis facilities including Aquaventure. These features, along with our close proximity to most major cities in the United States, make us one of the best values in the Caribbean.
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