At Regent Palms, a group mentality

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Any longtime repeat visitor to Turks and Caicos will have noted the steady growth of its tourism infrastructure over the last decade.

A raft of luxury resort properties on the island of Providenciales and its world-famous Grace Bay Beach cater to well-heeled overnight visitors.

And while overall arrivals have grown more than sevenfold in the past decade in Turks and Caicos, from 150,579 overnight visitors in 2004 to nearly 1.07 million people last year, growth has slowed annually since 2011.

Regent Palms Turks and Caicos SpaProprietors of luxury resorts competing for the now-stagnant numbers of incoming upscale dollars are exploring new ways to drum up business.

One example is the Regent Palms Turks and Caicos, a 72-suite, 154-room condo resort located on Grace Bay Beach, which has begun courting group business such as weddings, family celebrations and, in particular, corporate meetings and incentives travel, in earnest.

"We are primarily an FIT resort, but our groups business is extremely important and accounts for about 10% to 15% of our overall business," said Joanne Hogg, director of travel industry sales. The property already has 11 groups booked for 2015, she noted.

Not a convention hotel or purpose-built for groups, the upscale Regent Palms resort, where summer occupancies are currently in the 50% range, has had to "get creative," Hogg said.

Since they don't have office space for corporate groups, for example, Hogg and her team offer such guests use of ground-floor suites.

"They offer ease of access for the travel team," she said. "Clients can walk right in [to meetings] from the pool or the beach."

Unusual for a property its size, the Regent Palms boasts a 100-person ballroom that can be broken down into two
50-person spaces. Other group venues include a beachside wooden deck and an on-site gourmet restaurant, Parallel 23, which features indoor and outdoor dining.

According to General Manager Karen Whitt, the property's ideal group size is 80 to 90 guests.

"But then we do get a lot of smaller groups," she said. "We [recently had] a group of 26, and that's nice because then we can really spoil them for attention."

Elite amenities

In terms of facilities and accommodations, the resort is at the top of the Turks and Caicos class.

A banquet room at Regent Palms Turks and Caicos.Guest units range from 640-square-foot junior suites to 3,422- to 3,791-square-foot, one- to three-bedroom penthouses, all appointed with king-size beds with custom linens; high-speed WiFi; cable TV and DVD/CD players; and, in many cases, washers and dryers and full kitchens equipped with Viking appliances.

During my recent visit, I stayed in a 1,500-square-foot, one-bedroom suite, which boasted one-and-a-half baths, an enormous private oceanview balcony, a living/dining room with sleeper sofa and a fully stocked kitchen, which also sported an espresso machine and coffeemaker.

Downtime was spent at the 25,000- square-foot spa and fitness center, in the state-of-the-art infinity pool or on the powdery white beach, where guests find an oceanfront bar and full butler service.

Retail impulses were acted on at the on-site Palms Courtyard Shops, featuring tony establishments such as Wish Boutique, for contemporary fashion; Harmony Gallery, selling local artwork; and Spice, the resort's gourmet market.

For groups, it adds up to a luxurious getaway, Hogg said.

"We have the most comprehensive offering of facilities: luxurious accommodations, a fine-dining restaurant, the largest spa on the island, [the] only resort [on the island] with a ballroom, multiple outdoor event venues, retail outlets, etc.," she noted, adding that her team books only one group on property at a time.

Planning partners

The Regent Palms works with a select group of island venue and supplier partners to craft on-site experiences for group guests, such as beachside dinners, cultural evenings and arts-and-crafts fairs.

These include event planners Nila Destinations; Paradise Photography; artist Lucie Winton Stubbs, of Driftwood Studio; and musician and historian David Bowen, who is both Turks and Caicos' director of culture and producer of Providenciales' weekly Fish Fry at Bight Park.

These partners also often provide the nightly turndown gifts many group organizers like to lavish on event attendees.

"We're adapting to needs of our clients and we can provide, from A to Z, everything that groups need," Hogg said.

Regent Palms Turks and Caicos Parallel 23 Restaurant"The perception has been that, while this is a beautiful island, the professionalism is not here," she added. "But we're ready; we have the infrastructure, the professionalism and the technology to deal with these very high-end groups."

Off-property, the resort collaborates with activities purveyors such as Big Blue, for kayaking; Silver Deep (boat trips); and the Provo Golf Club. For a change of dining pace, the Regent Palms also organizes "dine-around" lunches and dinners at Provo eateries, including the Somewhere Cafe & Lounge, Magnolia, Bay Bistro and the must-see (and be-seen-at) Coco Bistro.

Not that great food or fun is lacking on property. Parallel 23, casual poolside eatery Plunge and in-room dining, spa cuisine and catering and banquet services are now overseen by Canadian-born Lauren Callighen, named the Regent Palms' first female head executive chef in March.

Callighen has revamped the menu at Parallel 23, artfully combining fresh local fish with Caribbean spices and flavors in new contemporary dishes such as Caicos grouper with red curry sauce, chickpea puree and homemade lime pickle or New Zealand lamb loin with grilled asparagus, cherry tomato confit, barley risotto and garlic jus.

Rates at the Regent Palms, which pays travel agents a 10% commission, start at $625 per night. Travel agents generate 18% to 20% of the property's business, Hogg said.

Cockburn Town on Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands. A previous version of this article misidentified Providenciales as the capital.

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