In Search of Hotel Excellence: True Blue Bay Resort, Grenada

Do you really need a beach? That was the first question I asked Russ Fielden, owner and operator of True Blue Bay Resort in Grenada while on a recent visit. In the past 14 years, Russ, along with his wife Magdalena, have proven that a successful Caribbean resort need not have the classic sand beach centerpiece to be successful, provided that the team treats this deficit as an opportunity.

Today, True Blue Bay Resort is considered one of the most prosperous lodging properties in Grenada.  With 50 rooms, thriving dive operations and yachting for families and business travelers, the hotel belittles its modest start up when Russ acquired the near-bankrupt True Blue Inn. Now operating with occupancies well above those of competitive properties, Russ credits Magdalena’s creativity and the broadest array of guest offerings for their success.

But it wasn’t easy or even planned! As Russ explains, “We went to look at a place in St. Patrick’s (at the northern coast of Grenada and far from the bulk of the population who are congregated on the southern tip near the capital St. George’s), and stopped in at True Blue Inn for lunch where we heard that they were going out of business. We called the bank holding the loan and agreed to a mortgage arrangement. The bank even sold us the furnishings of the then seven-room property for an additional dollar! The idea was that if we survived the first year, the bank would agree to restructure the loan and expand the capital base.”

Using a building-block approach, Russ encouraged Aquanauts Grenada, a leading dive operation to set up shop within the confines of the resort. Horizon Yacht Charters subsequently followed suit. Both operate as independent entities, yet they serve to synergistically support occupancies. Building upon this foundation, Russ encouraged a local spa operator, Le Conch, and a local car rental company, Indigo, to add outlets as well. This creative program bolstered True Blue Bay Resort’s product offering to its guests without adding significant capital or overhead.

Having these operations all under one roof was a good start, but these ‘creative connections’ were simply not enough. As Russ explains, “With no beach, you get an automatic deduction of one star in the guide books. So, we had to dig deeper and create our own environment.” Here, Magdalena’s artistic approach to guest rooms and common areas played a critical role. Using vivid Caribbean colors, the property glows in a palette of warm blue, orange, yellow and red pastels. At first, your eyes have trouble focusing, but then the genius of the hues takes hold, allowing you to notice the fine details – custom ironwork, metal signage and unique use of decorative materials.

On my recent trip, I arrived late only to find my room decorated with rose petals arranged in decorative patterns throughout my suite. I find these additional touches to be most remarkable because the hotel is classified in the mid-price range and not at the upper or premium level.

Not having a beach also forced Russ into developing a strong corporate business. As Russ explains, “By not having a beach, we position ourselves well with this segment.” Tying in with St. George’s University (SGU), just a few minutes away, provided an additional source of rooms’ generation. By establishing close relationships with both the students and faculty, parents of students deliver 15% of total annual rooms’ occupancy. I experienced this first hand as an evening welcome party for SGU students and guests made the property’s Dodgy Dock Restaurant standing room only. (For perspective, Russ estimates that 35% of total F&B revenue is generated by the SGU constituency.)

The property’s leisure business augments dive, yachting and spa with family and couples programs. All are as creative as the owners. Social media confirms True Blue Bay Resort as a kid’s heaven with a wide variety of activities and a ‘mini-beach’ created by trucking in more than enough sand for young children to think they are on a beachfront property. Couples can also try cooking classes or partake in rum tastings.

If all of this sounds a little bit frenetic, it reflects Russ’ active over passive approach. Russ encourages his guests to go see all that the island of Grenada has to offer. Unlike those resort operators who want to capture every guest dollar, he recognizes the wide variety of excellent cuisine available in local restaurants and the myriad of local, completely unaffiliated, attractions. With this sort of gusto, it’s no surprise that Russ is the current president of the Grenada Hotel & Tourism Association (GHTA).

(Article published on eHotelier on January 19, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyIn Search of Hotel Excellence: True Blue Bay Resort, Grenada