The Reefs banks it all on agent-friendly angle

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SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda -- Like almost every property here, the Reefs had a rough end to 2001. So far this year the property "is doing better than we had thought," according to its general manager, Neal Stephens.

And Stephens attributes much of the property's success to its relationship with agents. The Reefs, which derives 60% of its business from retailers, chooses not to work with U.S. tour operators.

Having only 67 units and a high repeat factor leaves few rooms available to U.S. operators, he explained. The Reefs does, however, work with tour operators from Europe because "that's how guests from the U.K. prefer to travel," he said.

Also, the property does not want to alter its base commission structure (10% on room and package sales) for U.S. agents, which might be necessary if it had to compensate U.S. operators, as well, Stephens noted.

The Reefs has an agent override program that pays 12% to the top 25 agents generating revenue for the hotel this year. The 12% is paid on all bookings made the following year, Stephens said.

Another agent-friendly practice: The property tracks the history of guest bookings. If the staff finds that a client first booked with an agent and then decided to book direct on a repeat visit, the agent is protected on the repeat commission, he said.

The property also leaves a gift in the room with the compliments of the referring travel agent. Stephens hopes these perks keep the property top-of-mind for travel agents.

The Reefs lost $750,000 worth of business under deposit last fall because of Sept. 11, Stephens said. September occupancy was 60%; usually it's 90%.

And the booking window shrank, he said. For summer 2001, it had been four to five months out -- now it is about one month out. But projected summer occupancy is only 2% to 3% behind 2001. This July should equal last July, when 95% occupancy was posted, he said.

A view of the Reefs, Southampton, and its new infinity pool, one of the latest additions to the property. Recent physical changes to the Reefs include the installation of an infinity pool, new landscaping and hot tubs on the decks of private cottage suites. The cottage suites were added as part of a $5 million renovation completed over the past year.

To encourage agents to see the changes firsthand, the Reefs is offering a fam rate of $190 per night, double, MAP, from late October through early April, with some holiday blackout dates. Higher fam rates apply at other times of the year, Stephens said.

In-house packages are available along with meal plan options that include dining at Cambridge Beaches, Pompano Beach Club and Stonington Beach Hotel as well as the Reefs' dining rooms.

Ninety-seven percent of the Reefs' guests are leisure, mostly from the Northeast, although the property can accommodate meetings of groups of up to 20 people, he said.

The Reefs' on-site restaurants are the Ocean Echo Terrace Grill, featuring Southwestern dishes; the Coconuts Beach Bar Restaurant, which serves Caribbean cuisine; and the Clubhouse Dining Room, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round.

For information, contact Island Resorts Reservations, (800) 742-2008 or visit the Web site at www.thereefs.com.

The price of romance

SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda -- A six-night Romance Package suitable for honeymoons and anniversaries is offered by the Reefs through Oct. 25. Bookings must be received at least 21 days before the date of arrival.

Rates range from $3,170 per couple for a poolside guest unit to $5,266 for an oceanfront cottage. Among the features are a beachside dinner and a four-hour Boston Whaler cruise of Bermuda's inlets and coves.

Also included are breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner daily; roundtrip airport transfers; a souvenir gift; and tax and service charges.

Additional nights are available at the rack rate for the unit occupied.

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