Sonesta to reopen in May with brand new image

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SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda -- Plans to revamp the Sonesta Beach Resort were already being sketched when Hurricane Fabian began gathering speed in the Atlantic Ocean last September.

The $78 million project was to be phased in over several years while the 400-room resort continued to operate as usual.

All that changed when the strongest storm to hit the island in 50 years slammed into the resort (see story below). The Sonesta closed immediately; soon architects and designers were drawing a new set of blueprints. When the resort reopens May 1, Sonesta officials said it will be very different from what it used to be.

"The old Sonesta is gone," said Donald Weber, director of marketing for Sonesta Bermuda. "This is a brand new resort -- in concept, in feeling, in food and beverage -- in just about everything."

The 10-foot waves that crashed through the first floor of the South Shore resort "gave us a clean slate," Weber said. "We're taking advantage of that to introduce something Bermuda has never seen before -- a modern hotel that's cutting-edge, funky and fun."

Instead of the usual pool area, guests will splash in a water park (the first in Bermuda) that includes several swimming pools, waterfalls, water slides and tunnels. The "fun" theme will continue throughout the resort in guest rooms, restaurants, lounges and outdoor areas.

"Our plan is to break the mold in Bermuda," said Weber. "We think what we're doing is going to generate a lot of fresh interest in the resort -- and in Bermuda."

"Cutting edge" isn't usually a term associated with Bermuda. The island is better known for its prim, cottage-style resorts that date to the late 1800s. But competition from flashy new hotels in the Caribbean and Cancun has taken its toll. Air arrivals and hotel occupancy rates have declined in recent years, according to Weber.

"There's been a huge shift in product," he said. "And Bermuda hasn't kept up. It's been stuck in the era of pink lipstick and Bermuda shorts."

While Bermuda's tourism organizations and its more traditional resorts may be conflicted about whether the island should change its image, Sonesta felt free to try something different.

"The Sonesta was never all that traditional," Weber said.

Built in the late 1950s on Bermuda's southern coast, the resort includes several modern, multistory white buildings that stretch across a rocky promontory overlooking coral reefs.

The 33-acre resort is owned by Southampton Beach Resort and is managed by Sonesta International Hotels Corp.

Three private beaches offer Sonesta guests access to the Atlantic. Its location has helped make it one of the island's most active resorts, with water sports, scuba diving and snorkeling.

But like Bermuda's other resorts, the Sonesta has had difficulty expanding its base beyond couples and honeymooners, the island's "bread-and-butter clients," Weber said. "Catering to active adults and families is becoming increasingly important."

Weber said the new resort will be modern yet informal enough that parents won't feel uptight if their kids scamper across the lobby. By adding the water park, a dolphin sanctuary and other amenities aimed at families, Weber said the Sonesta will be able to compete with the likes of Atlantis in the Bahamas.

The areas receiving a face-lift include:

• Guest rooms. The resort will reopen with 247 rooms, down from 400 before the hurricane struck. About 100 rooms will be new; another 100 will be refurbished. More will be added later to make up for those lost when part of the main Carlton Wing was demolished by the storm.

• Pool area. A water park with four pools and a swim-up bar will be added. The children's pool will have an interactive water-play area.

The Greenhouse restaurant will reopen as the Chameleon, with seating for 270 indoors and 160 outdoors. • Restaurants. The Greenhouse will reopen as the Chameleon. It will seat 270 guests indoors and 160 outdoors.

Sazanami, a sushi restaurant, will open in place of the old Longtail Cafe. The Seagrape Terrace has been renamed the Pearl Onion.

• Lounges. The Longtail Lounge is now the Tip Toe Lounge, named for the boat that was immortalized in photographs after Hurricane Fabian struck. The boat, which came to rest in one of the resort's bayfront suites, will be displayed in the lounge.

• European Health & Beauty Spa. The spa will reopen in its original location in May, but the resort plans to double its size and move it to a new location in the next two years.

A new children's activity area, called Just Us Kids, will offer daily supervised activities for children ages 5 to 12.

Weber said four packages are being planned for guests arriving May 1, although their rates have not yet been released. Among them are a Romance package, a Family Fun package and dive and golf packages.

Weber said the sales staff will be working closely with travel agents as the resort's marketing blitz begins in March. A program that includes incentives and fam trips for agents is planned. Travel agent commission is 10%.

"We think this property is going to be an easy sell for agents, and we're going to do all we can to help," he said.

Room rates range from $290 to $480 May through August; $255 to $435 September to Nov. 15 and $150 to $255 Nov. 16 through March 2005.

For more information, phone (800) 766-3782 or visit www.sonesta.com/bermuda.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

Fabian: A 1,000-year storm

SOUTHAMPTON -- The Sonesta Beach Resort has taken steps to protect the property against damage from future hurricanes while reassuring potential clients that a storm the magnitude of Fabian is not likely to hit the resort again in a thousand years.

The resort raised the seawalls in most areas and is using more stone materials for the lower areas, according to Cliff Schorer, managing partner of Bermuda-based Southampton Beach Resort, which owns the property.

"It is important to keep in mind," Schorer said, "that Fabian made more changes [to the land where the cliffside0 property now stands] than any storm in the last 1,200 years, including increasing the size of all three of our beaches."

Schorer attributed the information to the coastal-erosion specialists brought in by the government of Bermuda.

"This is not to say that it couldn't happen again," Schorer added, "just that statistics are on our side." -- B.R.

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