One size fits all: Beaches Boscobel

Associate editor Paul Felt visited the Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. His report follows:

f only these walls could talk, the recently opened Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club would probably have quite a few things to say. What is now the resort, was -- under its first swingin' incarnation in 1959 -- the Playboy Club.

And while Hugh Hefner really hasn't changed a bit, this property certainly has. Close to $18 million was spent renovating the 224-room property, which is spread out along the slope of a mountain.

The property, I soon discovered, has other unusual characteristics, such as its method of hiring.

Staffing up

"One of the things we wanted to do was hire people who never worked in a hotel before because they had the good attitude, smile and the friendliness we were looking for," according to Jeff McKitty, general manager of the property, who also opened Beaches Negril, the first Beaches resort, in February 1997. "And we knew we could teach the skills. It's hard to teach attitude."

Some 90% of the resort's 400 employees are new to the hotel industry, McKitty said. The staff was trained for a period of four weeks before the property opened, McKitty said.

During my stay, I chatted with several agents, including a mom and pop team vacationing with their family, and others hosted by Beaches on a golf tournament fam.

They seemed pleased with the resort, although some said the staff wasn't fully up to Sandals' polished standards just yet.

The hiring process, McKitty said, "is paying off for us already. It is reaping good dividends."

Many of the guest response cards, he said, rate stay satisfaction in the high 80s and middle 90s.

"The idea was not just training people to be waiters," he said. "We wanted them to know something about Jamaican history, so when guests asked questions they could answer them."

The staff also was helpful in arranging the many activities offered at the resort.

Activities

A sense of history and plenty of outdoor adventure and beach options await guests at Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club, a renovated property in Ocho Rios. At the activities desk, a staff member helped me plan my day. The choice was between swimming with a family of dolphins at Dolphin Cove or riding a horse into the sea at Chukka Cove.

Both activities are very popular, McKitty had said, and it was a tough decision. But because riding a horse into the ocean is a rare thrill, the woman behind the desk steered me toward riding.

Climbing the famous Dunn's River Falls is the most popular excursion for guests, but they also can enjoy local river tubing and hiking in the Blue Mountains.

Of course, there's always the option of staying a little closer to home.

I did that, as well, and enjoyed my first Swedish massage, which required a little more effort in pain management than I had expected.

Much like a visit to the dentist, I knew it was good for me, and I felt renewed afterwards, if a little sore.

Thoroughly relaxed, I figured it was time to check out the property.

At the top of this 22-acre resort, on a secluded perch one generally sees only from far below, sits what once was Hefner's 10th-floor oceanview penthouse, now a one-bedroom suite that goes for $705 per person, per night, in the winter (Jan. 1 through April 24).

The resort has 10 categories of rooms and suites. A deluxe family room, for example, starts at $315 per person, per night in the winter.

Dining is particularly savory at the Venetian, which serves a la carte Italian, and at the adult's-only Eleanor's Restaurant, serving Caribbean cuisine.

At Eleanor's, I tried an appetizer of Jamaica's national dish, ackee, a tree-growing fruit brought from Africa, and saltfish, or cod.

As for the hotel's public spaces, my favorite was an extra-large hot tub, which overlooks the ocean for a spectacular view.

Not surprisingly for a family-oriented property in the back-to-school month of September, business at Beaches Boscobel was slow when I visited.

By the numbers

John Lynch, Sandals and Beaches Resorts' executive vice president of sales worldwide, said recent occupancy level percentages were running in the high 70s to low 80s at Sandals, and in the high 50s to low 60s at Beaches.

"We've gone to a 35%-off promotion for arrivals after January," Lynch said, "because we've seen some softness there and we want to get the early birds."

Sandals' guests typically book far in advance, Lynch said, "because our price inhibits impulse purchasing."

"But we are getting three to four points of occupancy within 30 days, which two or three years ago we never saw," he added.

Overall winter booking levels, Lynch said, are 12% below last year.

He said he hopes to see booking levels back to normal by January, hence the unprecedented 35% winter discount, compared with 25% off last year.

"Every year, if you're not careful, January will get away from you," Lynch said. "You can't decide in January that you're going to have a problem because people are focused on getting their lives back together after Christmas and New Year's. It's a thing you need to work on early."

Lynch said he believes this winter will be a tougher one than the last, but holds faith that it will improve once the air of uncertainty clears.

"It's just a confidence problem. There are too many 'ifs' out there."

Meanwhile, at Beaches Boscobel, Thanksgiving is "pretty full," and Christmas and New Year's are "pretty well booked," said general manager McKitty.

For the Kids

Patience seems to be the virtue Beaches was looking for when it hired the 22 full-time employees who staff the Kids Kamp children's center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"We have another 25 trained nannies or babysitters, who come in on request," McKitty said.

The fee for private sitters is $7.50 per hour, which the guest pays directly to the sitter. There also is a Teen Center sports club and GameWaves Interactive Zone video game room.

For more on Ocho Rios, see related articles:
Area resorts boast new offerings
Ride a swimmin' pony for a sea change

Room key: Beaches Boscobel Resort & Golf Club

Address: P.O. Box 63, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Phone: (876) 975-7777
Web:www.beaches.com
Reservations: (800) BEACHES
General manager: Jeff McKitty
Rooms: 224 rooms and suites, in 10 categories.
Opened: July 1, 2002.
Location: Beachfront locale, 10 miles east of Ocho Rios, five minutes from Boscobel Airport and two hours by motorcoach from Sangster Airport in Montego Bay.
Rates: From $315 for a deluxe family room to $705 for an oceanview penthouse one-bedroom suite. Based on per person, per night, double. Children ages 2 to 15, $85 per night.
Noteworthy: Prompt and friendly service. Excellent options for family fun.
Not worthy: Sliding glass doors of oceanview suites mean curtains remain drawn and air conditioning stays on.

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