By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An Exuma-based resort yesterday said it is striving for “five-star rock star” performance to match high-end Turks & Caicos rivals and bridge a 36 percent room rate gap.
Dean Spychalla, Grand Isle Resort & Residences general manager, told the Exuma Business Outlook that the 78-unit condo hotel was uniquely placed to rival five star resorts in The Bahamas’ southern competitor due to its product mix and emphasis on training.
Voicing optimism that “we probably have a way to get there”, he described average daily room rates (ADR) as “what it’s all about” for Grand Isle even though existing data shows it lags some way behind five-star Turks & Caicos properties, such as Amanyara and Ambergis Cay, on such yields
Grand Isle’s one-month ADR of $633 was just 55 percent of the $1,146 Turks & Caicos average or, put another way, the latter is some 81 percent ahead of the Exuma-based resort. However, Mr Spychalla said the three-month ADR comparison was more promising for Grand Isle.
“We’re only 55 percent of what those resorts in Turks & Caicos are charging,” he told the Outlook conference. “We’re not quite there as an international destination, and need to do whatever it takes to get there. That starts with the visitor experience from the moment they get in at the airport.”
Disclosing that Grand Isle is hoping to establish its own visitor reception area at Exuma’s international airport once it is upgraded, Mr Spychalla said three-month ADR comparisons with Turks & Caicos were more favourable. Grand Isle’s $674 ADR for that period was 64 percent of the $1,646 charged by Turks & Caicos rivals.
“Our ADR has gone up, and the Turks & Caicos has gone down,” he added. “We’re at 64 percent of their ADR, but at some point we want to exceed their ADR, and the only way to do that and take it to the next level is with five-star rock star” elevation of the guest experience at both Grand Isle and off-property.
“Exuma is not necessarily about people staying in a hotel,” Mr Spychalla added. “They want to explore. We’re a place for people to come and hang their hat, but Exuma is really the resort. I’m not sure a lot of hoteliers in the past have really understood that. This is all about exploring Exuma.”
Noting that some $100m was invested to develop Grand Isle, which is located at Emerald Bay close to the Sandals resort, he explained that the condo hotel’s product mix - with units averaging 2,000 square feet, and ranging from 1,200 square feet to a 5,000 square foot penthouse - gave it a variety that can compete with Turks & Caicos.
“We’re looking to be serious competitors for Turks & Caicos, and I think we probably have a way to get there,” Mr Spychalla added. “What we want to do is pave the way for upscale opportunities in Exuma. We want to do luxury branding so we compete with other islands. One of those islands is Turks & Caicos.
“The real estate in Exuma will take-off when the airport is finished. Turks & Caicos was a back water until the airport was finished and they built the road. We’ll see that happen.”
To bridge the gap with resorts in The Bahamas’ southern neighbour, he disclosed that Grand Isle has embarked on a unit improvement initiative to overhaul design, furniture and furnishings for all villas “by the end of 2023” given that it has been 15 years since the property was constructed.
Dining and restaurant options are also being upgraded, with 23 degrees North set to become a “grill house” and open imminently following its COVID-enforced closure. A full opening will be held in mid-December, and its return will “boost staffing levels by 10-15 persons, so we will be approaching 100 staff members not too long before we go into the winter season”.
Mr Spychalla said an Ambridge Hospitality affiliate had been hired to “establish the DNA” for that restaurant and its Palapa pool-side eatery, while another consultant had been engaged to train restaurant staff.
Describing Grand Isle as Exuma’s second largest employer behind Sandals Emerald Bay, he added that it had made it policy never to be in arrears with suppliers. “We pay our vendors every Friday. We do not owe money to anybody in The Bahamas,” Mr Spychalla added, although he hinted this was not the case after the resort went into COVID “survival mode”.
“It took a year to dig out of a very serious hole,” he revealed. “We’re being laser-focused on where we have to go, having dug ourselves out of a hole. We’ve positioned ourselves to move forward.”
With Grand Isle’s unit owners allowed to be in residence for up to three months, or one-quarter of the year, Mr Spychalla explained that occupancies will never rise above 75 percent, hence the focus on ADR rates. “ADR is what it’s all about. The only way to put revenue to the bottom line is to grow ADR.”
Describing the COVID-19 pandemic as “scary”, but Grand Isle had managed to get through it, he added that the resort had provided space for Access Medical to conduct virus testing on its staff, departing guests and Exumians. Mr Spychalla said Access was offering 24-hour results turnaround at prices 34-40 percent below rivals, having agreed to offer PCR tests for $98.
That could drop as low as $85 if an agreement can be reached with Air Canada.