Perhaps the smartest way for resorts to prepare for the uncertain travel market in 2009 is by investing in their existing products. After all, what company wouldn’t want to be at its best when facing perhaps its toughest challenge?
It seems as though most of the major Caribbean players have figured this out; for example, note the recent improvements to rooms and restaurants at Sandy Lane in Barbados and the sale and renovation of Cap Juluca in Anguilla.
You can now add Almond Resorts to that list as well.
The pool at Almond Smuggler's Cove in St. Lucia
According to the Caribbean all-inclusive company’s CEO, Ralph Taylor, Almond spent most of 2008 revamping its products, and plans on beginning 2009 the same way.
“As we enter this tough time, it’s important to be at your best, it’s important to make sure you have the best product you can offer,” Taylor says. “If you’re good, you will get some guests, but if you are offering the highest level of quality you can, you’ll get them to come back.”
In the past two years, Taylor tells us, Almond has invested upwards of $200 million into its hotel product, including expansions, acquisitions and refurbishments.
The 2008 charge was led by Almond’s acquisition of the newly renamed Almond Casuarina Beach Resort in Barbados. This 289-room resort, which opened earlier this year and took more than two years to complete, continues to pick up business in Barbados, Taylor said.
This was a total $60 million investment, with half of that money going toward the purchase while the other was used for refurbishing the existing building. Now, the property is welcoming mostly families and couples, ages 35 to 65, Taylor says, and has a good mix of Americans, Europeans and Canadians.
Relationship With Agents
Taylor also commented that agents continue to play a vital role in Almond’s success. In fact, he estimates that about 15 percent of all bookings comes directly through agents while another 35 percent comes through tour operators. The resort company has its own specialist program, called Team Almond, which any certified agent can join. The program offers agents incentives, bonus commissions and discounted rates. “The travel agent community continues to be a very important part of our business,” Taylor says, “so we make sure we always have a great relationship with them, [and] make sure we always keep them on top of all the latest information.”
Slight Loss in ’08
In 2008, Almond experienced a minimal loss in business as bookings for all Almond products decreased about 5 percent, Taylor says. Business as a whole, however, increased when the company added a new hotel this year. “We are always looking to expand, [and] always looking at other islands,” he says, “but for now, for 2009, all of our energy will be on building our existing products, expanding the market for the products we already have in place.”
Don’t Fear a Deal
With the downturn in the economy, discussions have arisen in the travel industry about the wisdom of cutting prices to attract new visitors. We asked Taylor the same question we’ve been asking other suppliers: Is it a good idea to offer a drastic sale, or is it smarter to simply offer add-on values without touching the rates?
Taylor says “yes” to both. “I think the world is accustomed to the idea of a sale,” he says. “Even the best companies in North America have sales. If you offer a deal once in a while, you have nothing to worry about. People know there are times they will get a discount and other times where they have to pay the full price. The only time a company can really hurt itself is when it offers deals all the time. If the product is discounted all the time, that means you basically have set an artificial price for your product and the customer will see right through this.”
One of the newly renovated rooms at Almond Beach Club & Spa in Barbados
Smuggler’s Cove, Beach Club Reopen
Almond Smuggler’s Cove in St. Lucia and Almond Beach Club & Spa in Barbados both reopened in early December after being closed for renovations and upgrades. The Beach Club was closed for three months for improvements. The restaurants were gutted, the arrival area for guests was upgraded and new granite tops were added to the bars. In addition, all 160 rooms were gut renovated with new decor, walls and tiles, completing a process that began this past year.
At Smuggler’s Cove, a fire in the kitchen forced the resort to close for about six weeks. During that time, the kitchen was completely gutted and revamped. The resort also added two new pools and built a children’s pool area that features a water slide. Children are welcome anywhere on the property, but the designated children’s area helps to keep the youngsters and families separate from couples and honeymooners.
New Program Makes Agents’ Job Easier
Taylor also talked about Almond’s newly introduced “For You. About You” program, which, he says, was designed to handle special requests and to help enhance the guests’ vacation experience. The “For You. About You” team members can be contacted online and will make arrangements for everything from sightseeing tours to private babysitting and dinner reservations at the resorts’ gourmet restaurants prior to the guests’ arrival. They’ll organize special events like birthday and anniversary celebrations, make reservations for spa treatments or golf tee times, book limousines for airport transfers and much more.
Agents looking for more information on any Almond properties should contact Maria Otero, reservations supervisor, at [email protected].