Philippe Zuber joined the Kerzner Group as COO of One&Only Resorts in 2015, and became CEO of the group in July this year. He speaks to Connoisseur Circle about his key achievements over the past five years.

When I look back over the past five years, I believe we have really defined the positioning of our three distinct brands – Atlantis Resorts and Residences, Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort and One&Only Resorts. We have evolved the experience each brand offers, leading the market with exciting partnerships and investments in the guest experience, and set a path to strategic growth for the future.

Since I joined the Company, One&Only has expanded into new markets – we opened two resorts in Rwanda, One&Only Nyungwe House and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest. These openings are fundamental to the ongoing evolution of the One&Only brand. Long known for our much-loved beach resorts, we have diversified our portfolio based on demand from our loyal guests for more engaging and meaningful experiences, introducing resorts in locations of exceptional natural beauty and as well as city centre locations.

We have also introduced the next generation of the Atlantis brand, we opened Atlantis Sanya in China in 2018, an incredible entertainment destination for Chinese travellers, and in 2021, we will open Atlantis The Royal Resort and Residences in Dubai.

I’m also very proud to have introduced, together with my team, the new service philosophy of ‘We Create Joy’ at One&Only and ‘Extraordinary—Larger than Life’ at Atlantis, to redefine how we engage with our guests and colleagues. However, one of the most important elements to me is the continued development of our colleagues. It is important that we nurture our team and grow them into the leaders of tomorrow.  

In 2017, you were evolving the portfolio by introducing “One&Only Nature Resorts”, “Urban Resorts” and “Private Homes”, in addition to the existing beach resorts. Did this distinction help you to better get through the Covid-19 crisis? Were and are most of the resorts working during the pandemic?

Resorts where we have a strong domestic market, such as Australia and China have been doing well since reopening with local residents keen to escape and enjoy the space and privacy our resorts offer.

We are pleased that we have been able to re-open all of our properties and indeed open two new resorts during this time – One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysia – the first One&Only resort in Asia, and One&Only Mandarina in Mexico – a strong testament to our belief in the resilience of the luxury travel sector. Certainly, I think having a diverse portfolio of resorts has helped us, as we can offer guests a choice of experiences from a secluded beach escape at One&Only Reethi Rah, which is set on one of the Maldives largest private islands, to our resorts which are located in incredible locations of natural beauty such as Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, which is positioned on a 7,000-acre nature resort in the Greater Blue Mountains in Australia.

Resorts where we have a strong domestic market, such as Australia and China have been doing well since reopening with local residents keen to escape and enjoy the space and privacy our resorts offer. With many international borders remaining closed, we have had to tap into new domestic markets and segments that weren’t previously our main customer bases. Destinations like Dubai and the Maldives, where borders have reopened along with strict safety protocols, are encouraging guests to return and we have seen strong demand for our resorts in these destinations over the festive period.

With One&Only Portonovi in Montenegro, the group announced its first resort in Europe with a second one to follow in 2021 on Kea island in Greece. Are you looking at more locations in different European countries?

This opening will be an important milestone in our history, as we continue to expand our ultra-luxury portfolio into new destinations around the world. We are thrilled to introduce the One&Only experience to Europe in response to demand from our guests. A large percentage of our current guests come from Europe and the opening of One&Only Portonovi will allow them to experience a One&Only destination within a short-haul flight of a few hours, for a weekend break or a wellness retreat. 

Europe remains a key market for our expansion, however we are looking all around the world to find exceptional locations where we can create unique experiences for our guests. 

One&Only is operating on five continents and constantly growing. As you just mentioned, a second resort in Mexico, the One&Only Mandarina, as well as a new resort on Desaru coast in Malaysia were opened. What is your aim for new developments in numbers?

our brand journey is about craftsmanship, service and quality not quantity

We are constantly seeking new destinations where we can strategically grow and we do have an active pipeline of future projects. For One&Only, our brand journey is about craftsmanship, service and quality not quantity, so we will wait to until we find the exceptional One&Only location and carefully assess before announcing any new development. We are not a large corporate brand that will have hundreds of hotels – we want to keep the special feeling that each One&Only resort is unique and a celebration of its destination. 

One&Only has always stood for great culinary experiences, now the focus on health and wellbeing programs is significantly growing. At the new resort in Montenegro you announced a partnership with the renowned Chenot Clinic and you are offering “Chenot Espace” programmes. At the new O&O Mandarina you are offering Tata Harper Skin treatments. Do you think the Health and Spa business is changing?

We have long recognised that holistic and transformational wellness is a fundamental part of our guests’ lifestyle and no longer optional for many of them. The partnership between One&Only and the Chenot brand completely redefines the resort wellbeing experience, as we can offer our guests truly cutting-edge spa technology within an ultra-luxury resort environment, alongside the life, energy, experiences and warm service for which One&Only is known. 

We will be introducing Chenot at other resorts across the One&Only portfolio, as well as seeking out bespoke partnerships like Tata Harper at One&Only Mandarina, based on each resort’s character and guest profile. Each One&Only resort always takes inspiration from its destination and this ethos extends to the wellness offering, from One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai which has an exceptional authentic Hammam experience, to our two resorts in Mexico which offer a number of spiritual healing treatments inspired by the local indigenous and pre-Hispanic culture, including a traditional Temazcal. Wellness will continue to be a focus for us as it continues to be important for our guests who want to unwind and reset from a more stressful everyday life.

We have long recognised that holistic and transformational wellness is a fundamental part of our guests’ lifestyle and no longer optional for many of them.

The travel industry is in agreement that the demands and the travel behaviour of guests have and will change because of the pandemic. What do you think will be the key focus of future luxury travellers and how did One&Only prepare for that?

For many people, this past year of restrictions has heightened the importance of meaningful experiences and I believe the desire for travel, especially within the luxury segment, remains strong. This collective experience has accelerated some of the trends we were already seeing, such as a movement towards more considered travel, transformational experiences and meaningful connections. Our guests are now looking to travel with more purpose and to support the local community or the surrounding nature. In several of our resorts, we offer programmes which allow our guests to give back through local initiatives. This could be building schools or roads in Rwanda or to support the regeneration of protected wildlife reserves in Australia.

Personalisation and the ability for guests to tailor their stay has become even more important. We challenged our teams to re-imagine our programming and guest experiences. They are already accustomed to entirely personalising each stay for every guest, and we are now offering more options in-villa or in-room for guests that choose, but maintain the life, energy and glamour for which we are known. 

We are seeing high demand for our villas and suites as well as longer stays, sometimes 28 days or more, with guests combining their holiday with remote working and education. In fact, we recently had a family from Germany take over a villa for their ‘home’ education for their children.  

One&Only is mainly catering to leisure travellers. Are you expecting a significant recovery of travel in 2021 already? Are you planning on developing any new products?

From what we have observed, a passion for travel, new experiences and forging connections has not changed. A strong desire to travel remains, but it is the restrictions that are in place – government imposed border closures, quarantines, testing rules – that are the hurdles and barriers to travel. With news of multiple vaccinations on the horizon and as travellers get more comfortable with the additional requirements for international travel and more travel ‘corridors’ are introduced, I’m confident we will see a strong resurgence.

Many guests whose plans to visit our resorts in 2020 were impacted by tourism restrictions have rescheduled their trips for 2021, and we are seeing some promising reservation figures for the year ahead, although not at pre-pandemic levels. Where destinations are open and have travel requirements that are simple and easy to navigate, we are seeing guests returning and travelling again, which is a good sign for the whole industry. 

The Kerzner brands are known for their innovative approach and for pioneering new concepts, elevating destination and providing the ultimate in immersive, quality experiences. We will always strive to create products for our guests that are surprising and new. In fact, we do have a number of exciting announcements for both Kerzner and One&Only to come in 2021. 

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