Interview with Serge Zaalof, President & General Manager of Atlantis the Palm

We will soon be kicking off a fun, new feature – a monthly “My Atlantis” post featuring an insider look at Atlantis, The Palm from various team member perspectives. Did you know that Atlantis, The Palm has a pillow menu for guests? Or that we have over 65,000 marine species in our Lost Chambers Aquarium? What about the bath products made with real gold available in our Signature Suites? Find out all about the intricate operations and little known facts it takes to make Atlantis, The Palm operate smoothly from the real insiders!

To warm things up, we thought we’d share some words from Serge Zaalof, President & General Manager of Atlantis the Palm, from his recent interview with the Destinology Travel Blog which follows below.

Serge Zaalof, President & General Manager of Atlantis the Palm
Recently, we interviewed a very special guest here at Destinology.

Serge Zaalof, President and General Manager of the world famous Atlantis the Palm hotel in Dubai was kind enough to take our questions on all manner of subjects relating to his time working in the hospitality industry. We hope you’ll enjoy reading his responses as much as we enjoyed interviewing him!

This is the first of what we hope will become a recurring feature here on our luxury travel blog.

Atlantis, The Palm

Name: Mr Serge Zaalof, President & Managing Director
Hotel: Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

Hi Serge and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We’d like to begin by asking how your career began?
I used to be a Bartender in my hometown during summers in France, which led to my passion for food and beverage and hospitality as a whole.

And how long have you held your current position at the hotel?
4 years. Time flies!

What do you love most about your hotel?
No limits. It’s varied. Impossible is possible here. Taking guest feedback into account and constantly innovating – a true Kerzner philosophy we live by.

How would you best describe your hotel?
Atlantis, The Palm Dubai is like a Range Rover, Aston Martin, and Mercedes all rolled into one.
Fast-agile-timeless! So many experiences in one place- it can go anywhere – be anything it wants to be.

Have you hosted any memorable events?
Many! Sports Accord, Olympic Committee, Nike Conference, DHL Global Conference to name a few.

What is your most embarrassing moment?
Arriving at Paris airport, I was asked for how long I would be staying in France, being a French I found it a bit shocking and embarrassed! I refused to answer and left.

How does your job fit into your family life?
I’m blessed to have a partner who understands the realms of hospitality with last minute requests and immediate calls to action. It is true that hospitality is a challenge to have a work-life balance. Having said that, I am surrounded by a mini family within my working environment, creating a surrounding that is harnessed with ups and downs, which I love very much.

Have you ever opened a hotel? Did it run smoothly on the first day?
I have, it did run smoothly except the helium balloons never took off! Thousands of them!!!

Have you ever upset a hotel inspector?
If I did I didn’t know it, but would love to; I would certainly invite them to work with us on property for a month doing my hours!

What is the most expensive booking made at your hotel?
USD 1.4 million dollars for a couple staying with us for 5 nights!

What is the most generous tip you have seen given by a guest?
The best thing I can receive from a guest is a compliment regarding one of my colleagues at the resort.

If you weren’t working in the hotel industry, what do you think you would be doing as a career?
Apart from the hotel industry, nothing else would do! But if I had to choose an alternative, I do admire the airline industry very much, and I could’ve been a judge who needs to have a balance view of Ads and life considering many aspects.

Have you ever had to sack a member of staff?
Unfortunately yes, and that isn’t an achievement nor a great skill. You don’t just fire someone, since it affects the family of this individual. Before doing that, I think twice, thrice and rethink it all over again.

Atlantis, The Palm

Guest Encounters

What is the most elaborate off-menu dining request ever made?
Square melons. Some very exotic requests which I cannot really comment on! They are exotic enough for a guest to realise I’m referring to them in specific.

What is the most unusual request that you have received from a guest?
To bathe in Evian water. Unusual and most definitely extravagant!

What are amongst the strangest forgotten items left in a guest room?
Many. The hotel industry is a great window on humanity…

Can you reveal any embarrassing stories?
I’ll leave it to your imagination. I’ve worked in 14 different countries, and have seen guests from over 200 nationalities… you can do the maths!

What has been your most expensive room service bill?
£300,00 worth of room service for 4 days comprising of purely champagne and caviar!

Can you name drop any illustrious guests?
No, but I can say that there have been many A list celebrities, Heads of States from all over the world. Literally.

Have you got any funny stories about drunken guests?
Our guests don’t get drunk; they enjoy life and stay in luxury hotels to live it up!

Who was your most demanding client and why?
Many demanding clients which is good as they raise the standards and force us to question ourselves, improve and innovate. We like them as they make us better!

Have you ever walked into a room at an awkward moment?
Many times! You learn again.

Behind the Scenes

Who is the most infamous character amongst your team?
I like infamous characters these are usually very independent thinkers, hard to manage but they think different! We have a few and I might be one of them too….

Who has the worst staff dress sense?
He knows who he is! A sincere and utterly dedicated colleague who has worked with me for years. Work in progress, it will take a century I fear…

Who has bad music taste and why?
That long term colleague again, but he always makes Sandance a success! So, who am I to judge?

What compliment do you receive the most about your staff?
Sharp, helpful, hospitable, they never just say no, they always provide an alternative.

Underwater Suite at Atlantis, The Palm

Travel Stories

What is your favourite hotel you have stayed in and where?
I always look forward to the next one. Quiet places. Tranquil and refined.

What is the most unusual hotel you have ever stayed in?
I wanted to save money on a room rate, but ended up a bit too low in a brothel! I checked out after 1 hour. No, nothing happened…

Are you happy to mention your worst stay and why?
The Brothel for obvious reasons. Suitcase was bigger than the bed, horrible experience! In the city where music is king…

What is your favourite menu?
Chinese food in the Four Seasons Hong Kong. 3 Michelin star, perfection, service, hospitality, menu, taste, design, you name it!

Where do you go for your own holidays to relax?
Asia and my home town in Pays Basque (Part of France) – where I hide with books and do just nothing. I hide the blackberry, and only check it once a day. I only answer calls from my direct boss, assistant, and family. Certain codes we have at the hotel that demand attention. I just want to see no one and this is my luxury.

 

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