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Male Ally of the Month: Mr. May – Tom Roelens, Managing Director, Atlantis The Royal, Dubai

“Male Ally of the Month,” is a column that focuses on the men going out of their way to support women in the hospitality industry. While we all know they don’t have to help, these guys want to help, and this new column will take the time to find out how and why they are determined to help us reach gender equality.

Meet our Mr. May, Male Ally of the Month, Tom Roelens, an admired leader in the world of luxury hospitality. Tom's career trajectory is nothing short of extraordinary, starting in the bustling kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants in Belgium and France, where his passion for delivering unparalleled guest experiences was ignited. From there, he climbed the ranks at Four Seasons, making his mark in destinations like Jakarta, Newport Beach, the Maldives, Lana’i - Hawaii and Kuala Lumpur. Now, as the leader of Atlantis The Royal in Dubai, he's at the forefront of one of the world's most iconic luxury resorts. Under his leadership, Atlantis The Royal achieved the Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Award in its inaugural year and was listed among the World's 50 Best Hotels, with multiple Michelin and Gault&Millau awards.

But Tom is more than just a hospitality legend; he's a dedicated advocate for gender equality and an inspiring mentor to many. His journey is filled with influences from incredible women who have shaped his path, and he continues to champion their contributions in every role he undertakes. In overseeing world-class operations at Atlantis The Palm and now the iconic Atlantis The Royal, with an unrivalled culinary collection of 50 restaurants, bars and lounges, with more than 7,000 team members, Tom's commitment to fostering an inclusive and dynamic workplace stands out. 

tom roelens atlantis dubai

Hi Tom,  take us back to the beginning of your career for a sec, what was your first job and how did you get into hospitality?


I started at an early age in the Heart of the House and the culinary world in Michelin-starred restaurants in Belgium and France. These experiences ignited my interest in living and working around the world, in quality experiences, and in going all out to create extraordinary moments and WOW guests.

From F&B you transitioned to become general manager working your way up with Four Seasons in destinations ranging from the Maldives, Hawaii, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. Have there been women who influenced you in your career? 


I certainly would start with my Mother and both Grandmothers for supporting me so early on in my life and for allowing and encouraging me to follow my dreams. I am very grateful to my wife Sara for her ongoing support and allowing me to be me and to do what is required to be successful in the hospitality world.


On this incredible journey, I have worked with extraordinary women in every destination I have ever worked in. I would mention Therese Desmedt, 2 star Michelin Chef and Founder of Restaurant t’Oud Konijntje in Belgium, Ram Hiralal, currently the General Manager in Jumeirah Bali, whom I worked very closely together with during the opening Four Seasons Resorts Maldives, Jacqueline ‘Jacqui’ Pucci, VP People Operations at Sensei, for her authenticity and resilience, Kathleen Taylor, former President and Chief Executive Officer at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, for her leadership and engagement, Valerie Wilson, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Valerie Wilson Travel, for her energy and enterprising spirit, and, Nalani Silva, who I partnered up with for almost 10 years on the Island of Lana’i, who I greatly look up to.


In my current role at Atlantis in Dubai, I would mention Hanan Eissa, Vice President Marketing and Public Relations, for her strong leadership and creativity, Marie-Elise Lallemand, our Vice President Hotel Operations for her relentless pursuit of Excellence, and Lays Laraya, Director of Quality and Guest Experience, for her ongoing commitment and dedication.

Dolce&Gabbana x Ounass by Cloud 22 Atlantis the royal
The Insta-worthy Dolce&Gabbana x Ounass by Cloud 22 at Atlantis The Royal

Just before the pandemic, you took a role leading a Dubai icon, the 1,545-room Atlantis The Palm, managing the expansion of Aquaventure, the world's largest waterpark, while simultaneously running the pre-opening of Atlantis The Royal, arguably the most exciting and successful hotel opening of 2023. Drawing over 1,000 celebrities and even Beyoncé, who held a private performance, how do you handle the pressure of running such a high-visibility event and mega luxury hotel operation?


We have an extraordinary team here at Atlantis with the Best of the Best players in the industry, whether it is at the Resorts or the Aquaventure Waterpark. The Grand Reveal and opening of Atlantis The Royal was years in the making and meticulously executed by the entire team. Everyone at Atlantis Dubai played a role and we are grateful for the incredible teamwork and ongoing drive to innovate and excel.


Beyoncé performing at the opening of Atlantis The Royal in 2023
Beyoncé performing at the opening of Atlantis The Royal in 2023

What advice can you offer women who aspire to run luxury resorts?


Women have played a vital role in the hospitality industry and continue to make significant contributions, achieving success across the board. Nowadays, women are equally the driving force of the industry and, whilst there certainly continue to be challenges, the future is promising for people of all gender, race and background as we continue to promote equality for all.


You’ve worked all around the world, what countries do you think offer the most opportunity for women?


I believe every location I have ever operated in has offered great opportunities. It gives me great joy to see so many of my female colleagues do so well in their careers. I note Sheila Ali, Hotel Manager at Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Alice Bouman, now Vice President Operations at Aegis Living in the US, Ram Hiralal in Jumeirah Bali, Indonesia, Ori Evapudan, now Senior Spa Director at Red Sea Global Hospitality in Saudi Arabia.


What about your thoughts for ambitious women in hospitality, how do you think they can best advocate for themselves?


Women continue to advance and gain recognition for their roles in the industry and leave their marks in the history of hospitality as leaders and creators of their own hotels and hotel companies. We need to continue to celebrate their accomplishments and encourage ambitious women to follow in their footsteps in this dynamic and diverse hospitality field.


What tips would you offer for men that want to be better allies at work? 


Despite the ongoing commitment, gender bias and stereotypes still exist. This at times affects hiring, promotion and workplace culture, and it shouldn’t. Achieving gender equality requires creating inclusive environments where all voices are heard and valued.


Thank you, Tom!


Royal Mansion Penthouse Suite at Atlantis The Royal
The Royal Mansion at Atlantis The Royal

Quickfire with Tom


What is your morning routine? Early Morning Rise, follow-up on any overnight correspondence, outdoor run to start the day


What do you do to relax? Travel off the beaten path, I have travelled to over 85 countries and continue to search for new horizons. Scuba diving, photography, hiking and running.


What is the best advice you ever got? ‘Take feedback as a gift’


What is the worst advice you ever took? All advice is well intended, it is up to you to choose to do something with that advice or not


Any books / TV shows / podcasts you are into right now? ‘Unreasonable Hospitality: the Remarkable Power of Giving People more than they expect’ by Will Guidara


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