Almond Beach chief wants boost from U.S. market

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Associate editor Cathy Carroll met with Ralph Taylor, chairman and managing director of Almond Beach Resorts in Barbados. Her report follows.

TW: Why did you decide to do a $7 million expansion and renovation project at Almond Beach Village, and how do you see market trends affecting tourism at the resort and throughout the island?

Taylor: With the market in Barbados, there is not a lot of building in terms of the number of rooms, which is stagnant, but the quality of rooms has improved in Barbados.

Almond Beach Village Almond Beach Village is the largest resort on the island, and it is successful.

The resort has a tremendous amount of land [30 acres] and is on almost a mile of beach, so we have added more facilities, such as the Courtyard Cafe, which is offering snacks, lunch and pizza all day. We've added a new swimming pool and 42 new rooms and are upgrading the kids center. During the year, we are going to add more Sega video games and a Genesis room and we plan to enhance our computer lab.

TW: What type of guests will the improvements draw?

Taylor: The 42 new suites are in the family area of the resort, but the facilities may be shared by all our guests.

TW: How has the resort done financially?

Taylor: We are a public company and concluded the last fiscal year by having had a good year. Our profits increased 80% over last year, but our previous year's revenue was suppressed. The increase was not over our best performing year.

TW: What are your future goals and priorities for the resort?

Taylor: We are increasing our market share in the U.S. Traditionally we have been popular with guests from the U.K. We want to see a better occupancy and repeat clientele rate and make our operations more efficient.

TW: What do you think about the government's proposed redevelopment of Speightstown?

Taylor: It will enhance Barbados as a destination, which will be a tremendous benefit to Almond Beach's hotels because it is on the West Coast.

Almond Beach Village is adjoining Speightstown. It is a quaint little town with a lot of history. It represents a wonderful opportunity for people for shopping, sightseeing, historical sites and art.

There is also talk of having people take a ferry there from Bridgetown and also talk of expanding the old Speights-town jetty. The plan calls for rebuilding the bandstand for outdoor concerts and the restoration of St. Peter's Church. A boardwalk is proposed to be built, too. This would all be done with a combination of funding from government and private enterprise. We would clearly be helping with the restoration through fund-raising ventures and in other ways.

TW: Why should agents book Almond Beach, and what special incentives do you offer agents booking Almond Beach Resorts?

Taylor: Agents who sell Almond Beach Resorts will have their clients return as satisfied customers. Our repeat client rate is 40%. At Christmastime we have our highest rate of repeat customers, many who find out about us through word-of-mouth.

The product is inclusive, so agents earn a good commission at a rate of 13% for direct bookings, and our Team Almond program gives agents bonuses.

We do airport transfers for all our repeat guests with a stretch limousine serving champagne. We are going to upgrade the presidential suite we have now and are planning to add a few more presidential suites this fiscal year.

We have added a spa to our adults-only Almond Beach Club, which is ultra-modern, with Salud Co. brand water treatments, massages, wraps, facials, pedicures and manicures, steam showers and a modern gym.

TW: What is the status of the creation of Almond Beach Village Negril [Jamaica], and what types of clients will you be targeting?

Taylor: We are finalizing the financing [for the $38 million joint construction project between Almond Resorts Inc. and Seasplash Plantation Ltd. of Jamaica]. Construction [of the 235 all-suite hotel] will begin in June, and it is scheduled to open by the winter of 2000 in Negril.

We picked Negril because it's a wonderful location. There is tremendously good access, especially from the U.S. It is a best-selling honeymoon destination and we will do well in that setting. We will bring a new client base to Jamaica and we think that Almond's clients who have previously been to Barbados would be interested in going there.

TW: What do you think Barbados needs to improve tourism to the island?

Taylor: They could use additional airlift from North America and from different areas of the U.S. Now the airlift is primarily from the Northeast and Southeast, which is served well by American and Air Jamaica, but there are certain areas they don't serve to Barbados, like the Midwest. Barbados tourism needs to create a greater awareness in the U.S. marketplace. It needs to be a better-known destination.

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