In a world of brand name hotels and unlimited expansion, it's nice to come across a family-owned hotel that's content with operating a single property providing top-flight service and hospitality with an individual flair. The Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas has been in operation 32 years. The resort features 65 beachfront rooms curved around the crescent-shaped, palm-lined Bolongo Bay.
One of the features at the resort that sets it apart is the
optional all-inclusive plan, which accounts for 35 percent of bookings.
"We've been offering an all-inclusive option since 1988," says
Richard Doumeng, president and managing director of
"Word of mouth is huge," says Doumeng. "On
average, one third of our year-round occupancy is repeat guests." As an
example of the friendships that spring up between guests and staff, Doumeng
relates a story of a guest who had been staying with
"We're in the midst of a change," says Doumeng. "We used to have kitchenettes in the rooms, but we've done away with them. That's not the market we're going for." All rooms still have microwaves and refrigerators, and the condos have kitchenettes. Doumeng explains that this shift away from kitchenettes is partially due to the change in the makeup of family guests. Instead of families with small children, Bolongo is seeing more active families with teenagers. The resort has also seen growth in the family reunion market. "Of all the markets, the destination weddings market is the most demanding," says Doumeng. "All other markets are easy in comparison. Because the chain hotels are so big, they can't give the extra attention we can give. When a destination wedding group arrives here, they feel like they really own the joint."
Rates range from $1,763 for two nights to $2,488 for seven nights, including room tax, resort fee and energy surcharge.
All Rooms Have Ocean Views
Each room at
Doumeng notes that Bolongo's restaurants are on each end of the property. "So if clients are looking for a quieter room, they should book one of the 45 rooms in the middle building," he advises.
"We had a spa, one of the first on the island, but
frankly, we couldn't compete. Our competitors such as Marriott, Ritz and
Wyndham have done an excellent job providing spa services," says Doumeng.
Massage treatments and tour components such as excursions on the resort's Heavenly Days catamaran can be booked in advance through Bolongo's tour desk by contacting Vernita Joseph, vacation director, at 800-524-4746, ext. 2500.
WiFi was introduced this year at
Doumeng also notes that a complete room renovation is underway. "We're doing sections at a time. Perhaps by December, certainly by June 2007, we will have renovated all of our rooms," he says.
Invitation to Agents
"Fifty percent of our bookings are through tour operators, which are essentially travel agent bookings, while an additional five percent is booked directly by agents," says Doumeng. Throughout the year, the resort offers agents, on a space-available basis, two complimentary nights and 50 percent off each additional night. "We know we shine if we get agents down here," says Doumeng. "In addition to the room, we love to treat agents to free dinners and catamaran excursions."
"In the world of vouchers, we often don't know who booked us," says Doumeng. "If an agent calls us and lets us know they've booked a client at Bolongo, we'll put a complimentary bottle of Cruzan rum (or a different gift if they don't drink) in their room, with a note saying it's a welcome gift from the agent. Help us help you—we're small enough to make you look like a genius."
The resort's EP option provides accommodations, a "discover scuba diving" in-pool lesson, nightly entertainment and complimentary non-motorized watersports, basketball, volleyball and tennis, plus equipment. Nightly EP rack rates are $199 for an oceanview room and $229 for a beachfront room, valid November 1 – December 15.
Bolongo's comprehensive all-inclusive option encompasses all of the features of the EP option, plus all meals (seven days a week of à la carte dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner), beverages (including all premium brands), hotel taxes and gratuities. Nightly all-inclusive rates from November 1 – December 15 are $430 for an oceanview room and $460 for a beachfront room. Rates quoted for both plans are per room, per night, based on double occupancy.
The travel agent liaison at
In addition to his duties at
Doumeng notes that the destination wedding market and the
group and incentive market will suffer the most. "Given the situation,
there are advantages to being a U.S. Caribbean destination," he says.
"I don't want to appear to be a vulture, but since we're under the