Business View Caribbean interviews Andrew Zephirin, GM at the Club Barbados Resort & Spa, as part of our Top Resorts in Barbados series.
The Club Barbados Resort & Spa is an oceanfront, all-inclusive getaway on the Barbados west coast – also called the Platinum Coast of the island. Within walking distance of historic Holetown, visitors to this Adults-Only, Caribbean favorite are spoiled for choice in how to spend their days – and nights – with traditional sun, sand and sea, heritage, exceptional food and drink, and the experience of connecting with one’s inner tranquility.
General Manager, Andrew Zephirin, shares the resort’s back story, its present-day enhancements and the genuinely natural hospitality of its team members that makes the Club Barbados a very special, repeat destination for international travellers who desire a tranquil setting to reconnect while still having activities and water sports readily available. “The Club has always been an all-inclusive resort for adults 16 years and over,” he begins. “First opened in the late 1970s, under Divi property management, it has had at least three flags in its history including the Almond & Pineapple brands. The current property owner, Elite Island Resorts Caribbean, is a collection of uniquely individual, all-inclusive properties with other locations in Antigua, St. Lucia, Tortola, and Palm Island in the Grenadines.”
Today, guests can enjoy cuisine with an international flare or Caribbean classics at the Club’s two restaurants: The Sunset Restaurant (casual oceanfront dining, just steps from the ocean-edge), and Enid’s Restaurant (a colorful air-conditioned Bajan-style venue serving up authentic Caribbean fare and warm hospitality). There are four thirst-quenching bars, including the ever-popular, ocean-edge Beach Bar (with its famous “Green Monkey” Suntail), the lively De Rum Shop Bar (home of weekly Rumology sessions), and the laid-back sing-along-until- 2AM Piano Bar.
The Club Barbados is open year round with approximately 160 permanent employees on staff, although, that number fluctuates with the seasons. The property is adults-only, meaning no guests under the age of 16. There are 158 rooms and suites, spanning six tempting categories: Garden/Pool View rooms, Ocean Loft rooms, Superior Oceanfront rooms, Superior Garden/Pool View suites, One-Bedroom Garden/Pool View Suite, and One-Bedroom Oceanfront Suite. Complimentary wireless internet is available throughout the resort. Most guests, by far, hail from the United Kingdom and Europe. The remainder come from the U.S., Canada, and other Caribbean islands.
All rooms in the hotel have been outfitted with new case goods, including bedding, nightstands, chest of drawers, occasional chair with a footrest, suite sofas and coffee tables, plus fridge cabinets. Refurbishing continues, but the hotel is not closing; work is done during troughs of occupancy, when rooms are available. As part of the renovations, all bathrooms are being upgraded. So far, about 65 percent of the bathrooms have been done; the scope of work includes re-tiling, new fittings, new tubs, and tub-shower conversions. In addition, new airtight, soundproof windows are being installed in every bathroom. About ninety percent of that work is done.
Regarding marketing initiatives, Zephirin explains, “We have a robust online presence with travel agents, partnerships with all the major tour operators in the U.K. Europe, and North America, and a healthy repeat-clientele factor who book directly with Elite or with their favorite team member just prior to them departing the Resort on their current stay. What we’re looking at currently are small incentive or reunion-groups, 15 to 50 rooms double occupancy. We just redid our meeting room which can accommodate 75 people theater-style, 45 persons banquet-style, and 125 persons reception-style when using the pre-function verandah space.”
When courting smaller groups that suit the nature and size of the resort, Zephirin adds, “We strive to target group profiles that will complement our individual guest experience. Market-mix diversification is key to maintaining higher occupancies so penetrating the Dive, Heritage and Sports niche markets is certainly in our future. Being on the water and located in Historic Holetown definitely assists this effort.”
“The Club Barbados Resort & Spa promises an absolutely stress-free, restful stay experience in a child-free environment, with a world-class Boutique Spa to soothe the routine of your life away,” Zephirin points out. “If you want to reconnect in a meaningful way with your partner, this is the place.” Reconnection can be done totally relaxed or with full participation in activities, such as a wide array of motorized or non-motorized water sports. There are three freshwater swimming pools, a freshwater Jacuzzi, tennis (court-lit for night play), a fitness center, snorkeling, windsurfing, reef-fishing, water skiing, kayaking, and paddle boarding, with skippered or self-sale catamaran sailing. Off-property excursions such as a rum and history tour in historic Holetown, a turtle feeding trip or a sunset cocktail cruise can be arranged for a truly authentic Bajan experience. When it’s time to relax, the luxurious Tranquility Spa offers a full range of services, including massages, facials, a nail salon, and a menu of herbal treatments. Gender specific sauna and steam rooms are available. Spa packages are available for purchase at the resort.
Zephirin acknowledges, “Some visitors to the island like to take part in a full slate of activities. Others like to do nothing at all. We offer the best of both worlds here. That’s our unique selling proposition, that we have this blend. You can have a relaxed time, and there’s no pressure to take part in activities. But if you do want to get up and be more active than yesterday, being all-inclusive, there is the capacity for a more active stay experience.”
The Club has no large strategic plans for expansion, because they’re on a very tight footprint, geographically. “However,” Zephirin emphasizes, “our approach to our guests is to build relationships, to encourage emotional attachments with who serves them, so they feel like family and that we know what they want (before the request), when they want it and, of course, if they want it on a particular day – because even though they like a certain experience, they may not want to have it seven days a week. Maybe five days, and then for two days, try something else. That may sound like something everybody else is doing, but we have a very strong number of repeat guests. A lot of people come here to make friends, and they come back together. To complement that, we want to have a far more individualized approach to those customers, so we note their habits and tastes unbeknownst to them. We then empower our staff to act on these guest preferences as soon as they step on property; this delights our guests as it is unexpected.
Long-term business relationships are also key to the successful operation of the resort. Travel partners in the U.K. are very important from the revenue side. These include Faraway Places, Thomson Holidays, Virgin Vacations, British Airways (BA Vacations), Saga Holidays, and Tropical Skies. Online, The Club uses bookings.com and Expedia. And, it depends on a great relationship with Trip Advisor to monitor customer scores from an online rating perspective. BTMI (Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc.) is a national organization promoting Barbados. The Club Barbados partners with them to bring Travel Industry fam-trip to the island.
Zephirin sums up the Club Barbados Resort & Spa experience as one of reconnection with people you know and who know you. “People come here to relax and find themselves again; to have a carefree, tranquil experience. We are right on the ocean; we don’t have a beach in front of the hotel, but we have a beach terrace that overlooks the ocean. My guests tell me when they think about the experience here, it encourages them to forget their normal activities and concerns back home, and just escape from reality. We specialize in individualized service, which might seem non-unique, but our employees have been here for quite some time – several for 12 or 13 years. They know a lot of guests as personal friends; friends who book directly with them and call them, personally, when returning. After all they are coming back home to family – their Club Family!”
The General Manager concludes by indicating that “the number Two thing people should know about our property is the Cozy nature of the facility, as one guest puts it: ‘I take one step from my room and I am in the pool, another step and I am on the Beach Terrace, another step and I am either at a bar or in the Spa.’ However, the number One thing you should remember about The Club is that it does not have 168 permanent employees but 168 hosts anxious to warmly welcome you back home! Like Heather Hinds , Grill Cook, who won the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) Outstanding Employee of the Year 2016, who runs her own Reservations Department, grill-side, for the convenience of guests who prefer to book with “family” than through the traditional channels.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Club Barbados Resort & Spa
WHAT: Adults-only, all-inclusive, Elite Island Resorts property
WHERE: Barbados’ West Coast; just south of Holetown