ST. JAMES, Barbados -- Sandy Lane resort reopened last spring with little fanfare -- just the way owners Dermot Desmond and J.P. McManus wanted it.

"They were cautious in promoting the property to ensure that the guest experience was well-managed," said Jennifer Urquhart, marketing manager for the Americas. Now that the 28-year-old resort is operational, word is beginning to spread.

In April 1998, Sandy Lane embarked on a massive, $450 million expansion and reconstruction project. "The entire resort was demolished and rebuilt from the ground up, using the footprint of the original property," said Urquhart.

In keeping with the owners' wishes, notable architectural touches from the old Sandy Lane were incorporated into the new design, such as the stones from the original entryway and 300 mahogany trees surrounding the coral stone buildings.

The room count was reduced from 120 rooms to 112, resulting in accommodations that are 30% larger than before. Categories include 26 garden (orchid) rooms, six orchid suites, 10 ocean rooms, 60 luxury ocean rooms, five ocean (dolphin) suites, three luxury dolphin suites and two penthouses. Two dolphin suites are handicapped accessible.

Children, the Sandy Lane's marketing strategies have shifted to a "new wealth" clientele, which Urquhart described as "clients in their 50s traveling with children." Unlike the Sandy Lane of old, children are now welcome at all times of the year.

"Kids are the clients of the future," said Jean-Luc Naret, managing director. "We want to make sure they enjoy themselves and return." "We built a 3,000-square-foot kids clubhouse, away from the main resort and stocked with amenities that kids will love," Urquhart said.

Kid-friendly touches include hand-held video games to avoid boredom before dinner, a private e-mail address so they can stay in touch with friends at home and a daily program with age-specific activities.

Golf options at Sandy Lane also have expanded and a new health spa was built. In addition to the existing Old Nine course, guests now can tackle the 18-hole, Tom Fazio-designed Country Club course. Green Monkey, a second Fazio-designed 18-hole course, will open next year.

Sandy Lane's new 47,000-square-foot spa offers 14 treatment suites, a relaxation and meditation room and a 2,500-square-foot fitness facility with exercise studios and personal training rooms.

"Therapists are cross-trained and can also do massages or facials," Urquhart said. Also featured are a hair salon, the Ice Cave lounge and a yoga studio.

Finishing touches and small details throughout the resort "put the property over the top in terms of luxury," according to Urquhart.

For example, guest rooms are equipped with motion sensors that enable private butlers to determine if a room is occupied without disturbing the guest. Butler services are available 24 hours a day.

Controls for electrical systems, such as lighting and air conditioning, are located outside the guest's room, which enables engineers to fix a problem without disturbing a guest.

Flat-screen TVs with CD/DVD players and high-speed Internet access with 24-hour technical support are standard features in every room. By year's end, all rooms also will be equipped with Web TVs.

Since reopening, occupancies have hovered around 30%. Although this figure dropped even lower following the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., "business is now picking up from the U.S. and Canada," Urquhart said.

In the past, the U.S. market accounted for approximately 25% of total business, with up to 80% coming from agents. Sandy Lane pays 10% commission, and with room rates starting at $800 per night, that translates to $560 in commissions on a seven-night booking.

Although fam trips have not been scheduled, agents visiting Barbados can arrange a property tour during afternoon hours. "I visited the hotel right after it reopened last April and saw right away that it definitely is a premium resort," said Bill Fischer, president of New York-based Fischer Travel. "Sandy Lane has a beautiful beach, a magnificent spa, great golf courses and everything one could ask for," he said.

Barbara Foughy, senior travel consultant with Waters Travel in Washington reported that her clients "are very happy with Sandy Lane." "They were guests at the old Sandy Lane, returned when it reopened and said they would go back again in a minute," she said.

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