Staff, Location Among Keys to Popularity of the Reefs

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Reed Travel Features

SOUTHAMPTON -- The Reefs is so well known for its repeat clientele that, over time, a kind of mythology has built up about the place.

According to our own unofficial poll of travel agents and consumers, rooms at the property are scarce.

"You have to book at least a year in advance" was the refrain we routinely heard.

But according to general manager Neal Stephens, who should know, agents would be making a mistake to give up before they try.

"The hotel does enjoy a high occupancy rate, especially during the summer months, but contrary to popular myth, it is not impossible to get space at the Reefs," he said.

"It is true that last-minute bookings are not recommended, but even then, cancellations do occasionally happen."

In all, 50% to 60% of the hotel's business are repeat clientele, some of whom have been coming since the property opened in 1947.

Stephens cited three reasons for the Reefs' popularity with repeat guests.

The first, he said, is the low turnover among staff, about one-third of whom have been with the hotel for more than 10 years.

Another third have been at the property from five to 10 years, and two employees are starting their 45th year this season.

"The guests feel comfortable because they see many of the same staff each time. In some cases, we are seeing the children and grandchildren of our earliest clients," Stephens said.

Another draw is the location, he said, which features a private beach within easy walking distance from any room on the property.

"We are situated on a coral bluff overlooking the beach, which is a real advantage," he said.

The third factor is the ongoing commitment to upgrading and renovating the property, most of which goes on during January, February and March, he said.

Public and guest rooms are refurbished each winter, the dining room has been expanded, and portions of the prop-erty are being redecorated continually, according to Steph-ens.

He stressed, however, that work being done at the property is carried out in an unobtrusive manner. Guests are not inconvenienced.

The hotel also caters to new and younger clients, however, and considers their suggestions when undertaking improvements.

"Younger guests told us they wanted a fitness center, so we put one in a few years ago. [Its use] is complimentary to our guests," Stephens said.

"Also, their expectations in terms of cuisine is for lighter food, which we offer, while still preparing traditional dishes for our older guests.

"Being fairly young myself, I lean toward being creative, but you also have to have that balance."

Stephens' attitude about the importance of new clients is in line with the philosophy of minister of tourism David Dodwell, who owns the Reefs.

"When you have such a high repeat clientele, it's so easy to just look after them," Stephens said.

"But as other hotels on the island have found out, if you don't have younger and first-time guests, you will eventually run into problems."

As guests become older, sometimes their economic situation changes, or they move to a warmer climate and are not as motivated to visit a warm destination, he said.

"We have always tried to make sure our first-time visitors find their expectations are satisfied," Stephens said.

Younger guests can take advantage of a number of activities available through the hotel, such as jet-ski tours, power sailing, snorkeling, scuba-diving tours and boat rentals.

"Bermuda is ranked No. 1 for wreck diving, and we can arrange that for our guests," he said.

Another draw is the cultural heritage of the island, which appeals to visitors of all ages, according to Stephens.

"Many people don't realize that Bermuda is as old as the U.S.," he said.

Historical sites include National Trust properties and forts.

"Even travel agents sometimes don't understand that there is so much more to do in Bermuda than sit on the beach," he said.

For additional information about the Reefs, call (800) 742-2008 or (441) 238-0222 or visit its Web site at http://www.TheReefs.com.

The property's E-mail address is [email protected]

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