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Bolongo Bay Offers Both EP and All-Inclusive Plans: Family-owned hotel has a winning formula

November 2, 2006 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent

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.  Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

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 Bolongo Bay.
"We're really one-of-a-kind in that way." Doumeng notes that a goal
of the resort is to try to make available what he and his family would like if
they were traveling. "We offer 100 percent à la carte dining. A guest can
stay seven nights and eat 21 meals at our restaurants and never see a buffet
line," he says. "You can eat filet mignon and lobster every night,
order twelve different wines by the glass and choose top-shelf liquor such as
Grey Goose and Glenlivet." Since Bolongo Bay's
restaurants are popular with locals also, all-inclusive guests wear a wristband
and sign for their meal, although this is just for accounting purposes.

"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 Bolongo Bay
over a 15-year period. "He called and told me he had a problem," says
Doumeng. "He was booked into a second room floor, but he had heard that
one of our senior housekeepers was no longer cleaning the second floor, having
been moved to the first floor." The guest was in a quandary: He liked the
view from the second floor, but was wondering if he should change his booking
to the first floor. In the end, the guest decided to change his booking so that
he'd have the same housekeeper. Doumeng notes that it's not uncommon for guests
to dine in the one of the resort's restaurants with a bellman or housekeeper.
"Conversely, we've attended guest weddings in the U.S.," he

A beachfront room at Bolongo Bay

"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."

Bolongo Bay makes a point of welcoming
guests with diverse identities and lifestyles. "We're a gay-friendly
resort," says Doumeng. The resort has also seen growth in the niche market
of women traveling together, at least partially due to the very successful
"Girls Just Want To Have Fun" get-away package. The package includes
accommodations, with a maximum of four people in a room, and each person
receives a half-hour massage, roundtrip shuttle service to Charlotte Amalie,
St. Thomas' capital, for duty-free shopping, an island tour of St. Thomas, an
all-day sail and beach outing to St. John aboard Heavenly Days, the
resort's 53-foot catamaran, with lunch and open bar, an introductory scuba
lesson in the pool, non-motorized water sports, beach volleyball, tennis and
basketball. The group receives a certificate for $50 towards dinner at The
Beach House Restaurant.

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 Bolongo Bay has a private balcony
with ocean views, as well as amenities that make guests feel at home, such as a
mini-refrigerator, coffeemaker, hair dryer, iron, ironing board and safe.
"Every one of our rooms is on the beach, facing the sea," says
Doumeng. "First floor rooms that let you walk right onto the beach are the
most popular."

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. Bolongo Bay does have one room dedicated to
massage treatments and a room with cardio-workout equipment.

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.

What's New?

WiFi was introduced this year at Bolongo Bay
and by the end of 2006 the resort hopes to have it in every room. Currently
there are WiFi access hot spots around the pool and lounge areas, all of which
can be accessed via a guest's wireless laptop. Guests can also purchase phone
cards in Bolongo's gift shop to be used in conjunction with the resort's Internet
kiosk in the lounge area. "It's amazing how many people you see by the
pool in a bikini with a piña colada and a laptop," says Doumeng.
"WiFi is no longer an amenity—it's mandatory."

Bolongo Bay's renovated Beach
House Restaurant will open December 1 under a new name, the Lobster Grill.
"We came to the realization that we had a fancy menu in a casual venue.
We'll now focus on what people really like about the venue—hence the new
name," explains Doumeng.

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 Bolongo Bay
is Katarina Doumeng, head of reservations. She can be reached through the
hotel's toll free number 800-524-4746, or by e-mailing her at
[email protected].

In addition to his duties at Bolongo Bay,
Richard Doumeng is also the third vice president in the Caribbean Hotel
Association. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, requiring passports for
travelers returning to the U.S.
from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, has loomed large in
all Caribbean hoteliers' minds. "I can't
believe the U.S. Congress didn't consider the importance of the hotel industry
to the Caribbean," says Doumeng.
"The way the cruise industry operates, they didn't need additional
advantages over land-based tourism. The decision is wrong – it's brutal and

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 U.S. flag,
we're exempt. It's a fact that it's going to be easier for U.S. citizens
to get here and get back.

Bolongo Bay Beach
Resort: 800-524-4746,

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