Families in focus at Bitter End Yacht Club

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VIRGIN GORDA, British Virgin Islands -- Bitter End Yacht Club, the oldest family-run business in the British Virgin Islands, is a resort popular with the family market as well as the travel agents who court that lucrative and growing niche.

Ana Lavin, the resort's director of sales and marketing, said more than 30% of the resort's business comes from agents.

"The travel agency community is absolutely essential to our success," Lavin said. "We want to do whatever we can to support them and give them the tools to sell us."

Those tools include 10% commission, blast faxes and e-mails, fam trips and an agent rate of $99 per night. The resort also distributes an informative quarterly newsletter called North Soundings to agents and guests.

And when retailers visit Bitter End, said resort manager Mary Jo Ryan -- who frequently hosts thank-you dinners for the resort's top-performing agents -- they "return again and again with their own families."

Young guests who arrive as landlubbers at Bitter End Yacht Club can learn how to sail, snorkel and windsurf during their stay. When asked about Bitter End's appeal to families, agents credited the Hokin family, which has owned and run the resort for 30 years.

The Hokins early-on targeted Bitter End as a resort and yacht club offering a casual, active lifestyle for families, couples and boating and water-sports enthusiasts.

Donald Cockrell of Forest Lake Travel in Columbia, S.C., said the resort's location on North Sound at the northeastern tip of Virgin Gorda -- accessible only by water -- appeals to vacationers.

Cockrell said he has been sending families to Bitter End for years.

"It's an easy sell, and many of the families return year after year," he said. "These clients are a bit upscale; they do not want a commercial property with cruise ships everywhere, and they like water sports. My clients can't wait to return," Cockrell said.

Indeed, agents said the sports programs in and on the water, combined with Bitter End's family programs, which include kids' menus and age-appropriate activities, tie the resort and guests together in comfortable camaraderie.

Barbara Change of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York noted the interplay between age groups at the resort and the range of activities offered. She recently booked a group of four male teenagers, ages 15 and 16, and one brave adult.

"They were pretty sophisticated clients, but when they got back home, they called to tell me they loved their stay, especially the water sports and the range of activities," Change said.

The Admiral's Family package is a popular Bitter End offering for families seeking creative water-oriented vacations.

The heart of the plan is the complimentary Junior Water Sports program, which teaches kids to sail, snorkel and windsurf under the guidance of experienced teachers.

For the water-weary and waterlogged, the resort's family program also features arts-and-crafts classes, hiking trails and an outdoor movie theater.

Building sand castles and swinging in hammocks are also popular options for kids and their parents.

For more details, see related story: Resort floats water-sports plans.

For more information...

Bitter End Yacht Club
Location: North Sound, Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.
Rooms: 82 units, 4 live-aboard yachts
Phone: (800) 872-2392
Web:www.beyc.com
Kid's Web:www.beyc.com/yvkid.asp

Family Travel editor Kaleel Sakakeeny can be reached at [email protected].

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