Published On: Thu, Jan 24th, 2013

Taking over at Curacao resort, Benchmark enters Caribbean

WILLEMSTAD – How does a hotel management company reposition a property that had flown another hotel brand's flag for more than two years?

It's a task facing the 350-room, high-end resort that had been flagged as the Hyatt Regency Curacao since April 2010.

The owner, Santa Barbara Hospitality NV, ousted Hyatt on Dec. 15, citing cost overruns, high operating losses and missed revenue projections, and appointed Texas-based Benchmark Hospitality International to run the resort.

Hyatt objected, the Curacao court rejected Hyatt's bid to regain control of the property, and the resort owner renamed the property the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, Curacao.

Benchmark has numerous properties in the U.S. and one in Tokyo, but the Santa Barbara resort marks the firm's initial foray into the Caribbean.

Eric Gavin, recently named regional vice president of sales and marketing for Benchmark, saw similarities between the Curacao resort and the firm's Florida properties.

"Florida has ties to the Caribbean because of location," he said. "Adding Curacao to our portfolio is a great benefit for our guests because it extends the options of our offerings and expands our territory."

From a facility point of view, the resort is a good catch, equipped with amenities and features that appeal to both the leisure and corporate group sectors, including a private beach, an 18-hole golf course, tennis, the Atabei Spa, a marina, three pools, three restaurants and lounges, a fitness center and a full array of water sports.

"From studying travel trends, we know that consumers are looking for experiences and learning opportunities when they vacation, more than just sun-and-sand memories," Gavin said.

"We want to create authentic Curacao experiences here, bringing in herbalists, island historians and heritage storytellers, local culinary dishes and chefs to create guest experiences related to the island," he said.

The challenge facing Benchmark is to get the word out to the industry that there's a new player in the mix.

Gavin's sales team will be knocking on doors and dropping in at trade shows in the U.S. and South America this winter and spring with the message that "only the name of the resort has changed," he said. "The same staff is here, all reservations are intact and the same operating system handles bookings. It was a seamless transition."

The resort has launched a travel agent incentive program that pays 20% commission on all bookings made by March 31 for travel through Dec. 31. Agents should use promotional code 20PC when booking this program.

Source: Travel weekly

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