Case study: Entertaining collaboration

Hotelier explores the benefits and challenges when hotels and film companies team up

The cast of Happy New Year.
The cast of Happy New Year.

Atlantis, The Palm pulled out all the stops to host Red Chillies Entertainment for the shooting of Bollywood movie Happy New Year, which premiered in October 2014. Hotelier finds out more about the objectives of the partnership, and the challenges faced by each side

he number of film makers eyeing the Middle East has been growing in the last few years, and some hotels in the UAE have doubled as the sets for major Hollywood blockbusters. For example, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hit the big screen in April when Fast & Furious 7 was released at cinemas across the globe.

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, a car speeds out of one of the property’s towers and lands in the middle of a cocktail reception at the other. Additionally, certain scenes from Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, to be released this year, were filmed in the UAE’s desert.

Atlantis, The Palm recently got in on the action, collaborating with Red Chillies Entertainment as its hospitality partner during the filming of new Bollywood movie Happy New Year. The hotel also hosted the film’s A-list Bollywood celebrity cast. Hotelier Middle East spoke to Linda Abdul Hay, director public relations at Atlantis, to find out more about the partnership.

The Rationale and Objectives
Marketing the property to the local and expat population of the region was only the tip of the iceberg as far as Atlantis was concerned. According to Hay, the property had a very thorough and comprehensive plan of activities and endeavours to make the most of the opportunity.

“We wanted to engage the international community, in particular the GCC and Indian markets, to drive awareness and revenue through room nights to Atlantis. Also, it allowed us to communicate directly and creatively with national, regional and international media.”

In addition, the hotel understood the prominence of Bollywood celebrities in the Indian market and the effective ways in which they can influence choices. Hence, one of the prime objectives was to position Atlantis as a desirable vacation destination to the affluent Indian market.

And this was not to focus only on rooms; the intention was also to promote other activities on offer at the property, including scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, and leisure activities at Nasimi Beach.

While reaching out to the consumer market was imperative, equally important was to target other film makers in Bollywood.

“The aim was also to showcase the beauty of Atlantis as an ideal filming location for Bollywood,” adds Hay.

The Concept and Investment
Atlantis was operating as per usual when it hosted Red Chillies Entertainment, however Hays claims that the hotel didn’t have to make any major adjustments to accommodate the cast and filming.

“Atlantis can comfortably accommodate large numbers of guests, so we didn’t have to make any extensions or upgrades,” she says.

“We accommodated a crew of over 100 in-house, for almost a month. This included catering, rooms, logistical and several technical elements for the shoot, power, etc. Asateer tent became the central point for the crew. They conducted meetings and planning in that space.

“The celebrities stayed in the signature suites, including The Grand Atlantis and The Royal Bridge Suite, and enjoyed meals in our top restaurants such as Nobu. They also enjoyed socialising at Nasimi Beach.”

For a month, while the security department at Atlantis was challenged with being extra cautious in the face of any over-enthusiastic fans, staff from across the departments also had to up their games.

Atlantis associate director of employee marketing Kristina Vaneva says that it was challenging, but not entirely overwhelming.

“From an HR perspective we are well trained with handling top VIP guests and their security/protocol requirements. The team is also flexible and used to unusual and highly creative requests, such as transforming a ballroom into a world-class cinema.

“We understand the importance of team work, collaboration and striving for perfection to blow away the customer.This is why we always work towards creating amazing experiences and everlasting memories for our guests,” she says.

The programme in practice
Hosting celebrities, in theory, might seem like a simple task, but in reality it comes with frills attached — with the biggest concern being security. Atlantis associate director of resort security Muhammed Ajmal says that the security standards were top-notch and uncompromised.

“The Atlantis, the Palm security team maintained the highest safety and security standards during both the Happy New Year filming in September 2013 and during the premiere last October 2014,” says Ajmal.

“The team receives intensive training on an on-going basis and is ready for any security issues around the resort, large or small at any time

There were also other challenges to deal with, according to Hay, not least the timing of the filming.

“The film was being shot during the festive period, so we needed to erect, remove and re-erect our enormous Christmas decorations throughout the resort during the filming. These decorations are stored offsite and required a group of specialists to install them, so it was a big task.”

She adds that the climatic conditions posed some serious difficulties, especially for the local extras, who would have to wait around in the sun for their parts.On a more light-hearted note however, the movie had an amusing scene in which stars were pelted with 200 rotten tomatoes.

“We sourced these tomatoes and had them on hand to pelt the stars in the first scenes on the first day of filming, while hundreds of screaming fans watched on,” says Hay.

After the filmed ended, and the movie was set to release, Atlantis organised the movie’s premiere, which
according to Hay, was a huge operation that involved the entire Atlantis PR team.

“We planned and implemented a meet-and-greet with the stars and a press conference with media. We had a red carpet arrival, a launch party event, a screening of the film with cinema sound and screen, and seating for over 600. We also had a glamorous after party at Nasimi Beach. It was certainly a long day!”

The results to date
“Guests were very excited to be staying at a hotel where such a big production and its stars were based.

“ There was a huge buzz amongst the guests, especially as Shah Rukh Khan was staying in-house. All in all, we saw it as a huge value addition for the guest experience, providing them with exciting tales, photos and experiences during their vacations,” Hay explains.

When asked whether the partnership met its objectives, Hay confirms that the results actually exceeded expectations. “We reached over 3,039,087,972 people through our media activities. Happy New Year has highly contributed to enhancing the awareness of Atlantis The Palm in India.

“Following the premiere that took place last October, the resort witnessed an increase of 36% in Indian guests during the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Indian guests also represented 9% of the resort’s business compared to 6% last year.”

She adds that the hotel has identified key and lucrative markets, and will use similar mediums to reach that audience.

Sharing future plans, she says: “We have plans for many more large TV productions this year from different markets, but would certainly like to partner with another film company in the near future.

“Currently, we are shooting with House Hunters International, a huge American show broadcast across the globe, allowing us to reach many influential markets.We have also recently filmed the music video of Saudi singer Mohamed Abdu.The filming highlighted several beauty spots of the resort over two days,”says Hay.

Atlantis, The Palm won Team of the Year at last year’s Hotelier Awards. See p28 to find out how to get involved in the 2015 event.

Farah Khan
Director, Red Chillies Entertainment

Farah Khan has directed many movies and said that the shooting of Happy New Year is one of her most memorable experiences.

“Red Chillies was most fortunate to have the most diligent and organised set of professionals from the Atlantis team collaborating and assisting with our shoot. The planning stage was the most crucial — breaking down the scenes, allocating locations to shoots, timelines, requirements; once all this was listed and planned, it went like clockwork.

“It was smooth sailing for us; if there were any challenges, the Atlantis team did a wonderful job sorting out issues and ensuring our collaboration was positive.”

Kristina Vaneva
Associate Director of Employee Marketing, Atlantis the Palm

Kristina Vaneva employed quirky ways to make it an interesting experience for her team.

“The movie premiere at Atlantis was entirely organised by the Atlantis team from different departments, including marketing, events, sales, PR, F&B, security, housekeeping and HR. Also, all Atlantis colleagues were invited to participate as extras in the movie.

Hundreds of colleagues signed up to act in the movie. From a dress perspective, we had special tailor-made royal blue velvet jackets for all volunteers at the premiere event. We also held a lucky draw to choose who would attend the movie premiere and meet-and-greet with the Bollywood stars.”

Muhammed Ajmal
Associate Director of Resort Security, Atlantis the Palm

Muhammed Ajmal was involved hands-on to ensure that the celebrities and stars were protected at all times. “We held regular briefings related to the project and worked under direct supervision of the Atlantis security management team.

“The resort’s VIP protocol in conjunction with relevant safety and security plans were followed at all times to ensure the safety and security of the celebrities and crew.Because there was a lot of interest in the celebrity guests, we outsourced a team of event security professionals, in addition to our own security team, to perform the role of a close protection team.”

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