An Interview with Sir Royston Hopkin of Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada

Spice Island Beach Resort is a benchmark for Grenadian tourism and a key influencer of Caribbean luxury as a whole. Leading this prestigious property is chairman and CEO, Sir Royston Hopkin. His property is an upscale hideaway nestled along the palm-studded Grand Anse Beach on the island of Grenada. Hopkin’s expertise on luxury Caribbean travel is exemplary, and discuss here he discusses emerging trends.

Tell us a little bit about this five-star paradise called Spice Island Beach Resort.
Spice Island Beach Resort is, in essence, exactly what Grenada’s hospitality is all about. Grenada is the opposite of a mass-market destination, where the emphasis is on boutique properties instead of the high-rises found elsewhere. Our guests choose Grenada because they want a culturally authentic experience without the crowds one would find at other destinations. Spice Island Beach Resort delivers unparalleled luxury and privacy accented by world-class service and a gourmet culinary program incorporating many of the local spices and vegetables for which Grenada is renowned.

Grenada was ravaged in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan. What was the impact on the property?
Like much of Grenada, Spice Island Beach Resort was devastated by Hurricane Ivan. Most of our rooftops were compromised and we sustained extensive damage to our restaurant, spa and lobby. But it was a blessing in disguise as it led to a complete redesign of the resort. One year and $12 million later, Spice Island Beach Resort was reborn as a modern facility steeped in Caribbean decor with a timeless sense of class and elegance that has been described as poetic. It was a challenging period to say the least, but we emerged as a more environmentally-conscious property better suited to the needs of today’s affluent traveler.

With the property fully restored, how has the business responded?
We could not have hoped for a stronger response when we reopened our doors in December 2005. Our enlarged Cinnamon and Saffron Suites, which each took the place of two suites from the original design, became immediately popular and sold out prior to our reopening. Guests who had stayed with us prior and came back post renovations were absolutely speechless. As well, journalists we had hosted for our inauguration have been using Spice Island Beach Resort as a benchmark from which to rate other luxury products ever since.

What has the impact of the 2008-2009 recession been on Spice Island, Grenada and Caribbean tourism overall?
Tourism took a big hit during the recession across the board. It was felt in Grenada, throughout the Caribbean and virtually all tourist destinations around the globe. Unfortunately, the Caribbean had been hit particularly hard as many competing regions throughout the world have stepped up their marketing efforts, while the Caribbean has remained fragmented. And while tourism has improved gradually since the onset of the recession, we have still not come together as a region to effectively promote the Caribbean brand and are being outpaced by emerging destinations. As conditions improve, this failure will continue to impact all of us until our collective governments join the private sector in promoting the Caribbean as one unified region.

Has the premium segment been especially hard hit, or has it suffered less?
While one might reason that the premium segment would suffer less than the tourism market in general, since affluent consumers were still able to afford luxury products, this is actually far more complicated than it would appear. One of the most challenging consequences of the recession was the reduction in airlift faced not only by Grenada, but most Caribbean countries. Fewer planes means less capacity, which takes its toll on hotel occupancy across all segments, including luxury. Airlift has been a major challenge for quite some time. Fewer first-class seats have limited the number of affluent guests we’re able to attract to Grenada. The demand is still there, but without the airlift, we’re in the same position as the budget-oriented resorts.

Do you see a difference between the luxury travel demands of North Americans versus Europeans?
There is a fundamental difference between the travel demands of North Americans versus Europeans, though this is not unique to the luxury segment. Aside from the obvious difference, Europeans tend to stay for longer periods than North Americans, who often indulge in weekend getaways and are more inclined to stay at all-inclusive properties. In contrast, Europeans often feel restricted by all-inclusive meal plans as they prefer to sample the culinary offerings of their destination, which is one of our biggest draws in Grenada. Additionally, European clientele tend to be extremely environmentally conscious and are less likely to stay at a property which does not take steps to minimize its carbon footprint.

As the leader in Grenada’s tourism industry, how have you helped mould the future of tourism for the Island?
As the saying goes, you make the best of what you’re given. Grenada is a unique destination within the overall fabric of the Caribbean. Instead of harping on our challenges, such as airlift, we’ve turned the negatives into positives. We don’t have the infrastructure to attract the millions of arrivals received by some of our neighbors. That’s okay because our customers are very different from those of mass-market destinations. As a prominent figure in Grenada’s tourism industry, I’ve long been a proponent of the philosophy that less is more. Less crowds, means more privacy. Less development means more natural beauty. Less reliance on expensive foreign imports means a thriving agricultural industry that augments the cultural authenticity of the Spice Island.  By building on our strengths, we’ve carved our own niche within Caribbean tourism which has enabled us to achieve growth in quality rather than quantity.

What is your vision for luxury tourism in the Caribbean?
Luxury tourism is the key to sustainability for the Caribbean. But in order for this to happen, we need to invest in our infrastructure and establish a policy-driven strategic approach to a consolidated regional marketing program for the region. Only then will we raise our profile within the increasingly competitive global market and attract a more upscale breed of traveler. Once we can achieve this, everything else will fall into place. We’ll have more clout in our negotiations with airlines. By focusing on the quality of our tourism product instead of playing the numbers game, we’ll protect our natural resources for future generations. We’ll always have value-oriented properties to cater to the budget market, but I envision a Caribbean where hotels compete based on service instead of price. Then we’ll be able to focus not merely on filling rooms, but on the needs of each individual guest. If we can achieve this, the rewards will be numerous.

(Article published on Buyer Interactive on July 22, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyAn Interview with Sir Royston Hopkin of Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada