Life in paradise
The Langley Group was founded 25 years ago in Scandinavia. It is a travel and lodging company offering holiday packages in the French Alps, Corsica, Crete, and Greece. Every year it hosts 45,000 people who stay in its 13 hotels at its nine different mountain and beach destinations. In 2007, Langley Hotels & Resorts expanded its portfolio into the Western Hemisphere by acquiring a failed hotel on Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France located in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea.
According to Léon Raaijmaakers, Fort Royal’s General Manager, what was to become the Langley Resort Fort Royal after 24 months of redevelopment work costing €25 million, was, at the time of purchase, a derelict property, originally built in 1964 and owned and operated by a variety of different companies and private firms until it simply wore out its welcome. “The property existed,” says Raaijmaakers, “but it was completely abandoned. It had been abandoned for many years.”
Guadeloupe is an archipelago of five beautiful and closely strung-together islands in the French West Indies: Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre are Guadeloupe’s main islands, separated by a narrow strait called Salt River. The three smaller islands, called “Dependencies,” are Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes. Each island is unique in its culture, traditions, and landscapes, and they are all connected by inter-island ferry service. The Guadeloupe Islands routinely draw divers, snorkelers, fishermen, surfers, sailors, cyclists, kayakers, hikers, and vacationers from around the world.
Basse-Terre, the west wing of the Guadeloupe “butterfly,” and nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” is set on a volcano range topped by the very mildly active La Grande Soufrière Volcano, which is situated in the heart of dense tropical vegetation. The island is covered by a 42,000 –acre rainforest managed by the National Park and features preserved gardens, parks, waterfalls, lakes, and marine reserves. Its sandy and pebbled beaches come in shades of ochre, brown, black, and pink.
Grande-Terre, the east wing of the Guadeloupe butterfly, is set on a vast limestone plateau and is skirted by pristine, white-sand beaches and calm lagoons of crystal-clear, turquoise water. The three lesser islands also contain many natural charms. Les Saintes Bay, on the island of Terre-de-Haut in the Îles des Saintes, is thought to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world and the entire island of La Désirade is a national nature reserve – France’s sixth largest.
The Langley Resort Fort Royal is located on the North-West coast of Basse-Terre at the entrance of the town of Deshaies, alongside the beach of Petit Bas Vent, and against a backdrop of rainforest and mountains. The main hotel building has 133 rooms, including seven suites, all with a sea views; there are an additional 82 bungalows on the beach, making the Langley the largest hotel in Basse-Terre. When it first opened, Raaijmaakers says that 100 percent of its guests were from Sweden, flown there via direct charter from Stockholm on tours arranged by Langley Travel Sweden. Today, the majority of guests are from France, followed by Sweden, Germany, the United States, Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland.
While there are many places to stay in Guadeloupe, Raaijmaakers believes that the Fort Royal has some distinct competitive advantages. “We have the largest hotel rooms in Guadeloupe,” he says, “and then we offer different packages.” (Guests can choose among breakfast only, half-board, or all-inclusive.) “We offer two products: bungalows and hotel rooms, which is unique on Guadeloupe; we have free Wi-Fi in the guest rooms and public areas, which is also unique on Guadeloupe; we have a panoramic sea view restaurant and beach bar.”
In addition, the Resort boasts the most extensive excursion program on the island as well as the most water sports and activities including jet skiing, windsurfing, boating, kayaking, deep sea fishing, and diving. The world-famous Cousteau Underwater Reserve is located off nearby Pigeon Island. The Langley also sports a young, multi-lingual team of employees, the better to cater to its international clientele. Raaijmaakers adds that the majority of his staff is local, while the remainder is European.
Over the past few years, the Resort has continued to update the property. It has already renovated its entire restaurant and buffet area and Raaijmaakers says there is a possibility of adding more rooms. “But our first priority is to modernize the current facilities that we have,” he maintains. “We have a plan to improve our guest rooms and bungalows. It’s quite a major project that will start in 2017. We have started all the preparations already and the renovations will be spread over three years.” Most of the work will be done during September and October, when the Langley closes for the slow season.
Helping to spur the Langley’s occupancy rate, which averages about 70 percent on an annual basis, but can fluctuate anywhere between 30 or 40 and up to 95 percent, depending on the season, has been Norwegian Airlines decision to fly directly to the French West Indies from three U.S. cities – New York, Boston, and Washington/Baltimore since December of last year. Raaijmaakers reports that Norwegian will continue the service this coming winter as it has proved very successful for the airline. “It also helped the local economy of Guadeloupe and has positively increased our occupancy,” he declares. Norwegian recently added another flight from Miami into Guadeloupe as of December 2016.
Last but not least, Raaijmaakers is very proud of the fact that the highly successful, BBC TV crime series, “Death in Paradise,” has been shot on Guadeloupe for six years, and that the Langley Resort Fort Royal hosts the majority of the film crew when they are working in and around Deshaies. “Several episodes even took place at the Resort,” he beams.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Langley Resort Fort Royal
WHAT: A three-star hotel
WHERE: Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe
Europcar Guadeloupe – www.europcar-guadeloupe.com