After Hurricane Omar hit the island of Nevis and closed the Four Seasons Nevis for over two years in 2008, the resort celebrated its reopening in December 2010, and, more recently, its 20-year anniversary. Caribbean Journal talked to Andrew Humphries, General Manager of the Nevis resort and the Four Seasons’ Regional Vice President for the Caribbean, about the hotel’s $120 million reconstruction and renovation, how the Caribbean has changed since his childhood in Jamaica and Four Seasons’ plans for the region.
Talk about the reconstruction.
The resort was closed for 2 years and two months, due to damage from Hurricane Omar, and that was in October 2008. The damage was mainly from storm surges rather than wind or rain. There was little structural damage, but with the financial crisis in the states, and various other legal issues, it meant it took a lot longer to reopen the resort than the construction timetable. So those issues are all resolved now and we reopened under new ownership in mid-December of last year. It had $120 million spent on the resort, in terms of total spending, with $80 million in reconstruction and $40 million in upgrades to the resort. So it’s opened in great shape, with some significant enhancements, and it’s very well positioned now, particularly given that there are very few hotels projects on the go in the Caribbean. There have been very few openings in the two years we were closed, and there are unlikely to be any openings in the near future because of the challenges of getting financing for hotel projects in the Caribbean. I think the hotel’s in extremely good position to do well in the next three to five years. With the Four Seasons brand name behind it, and that continuity, we’re in very good shape.
What changes have been made to the resort?
We have all 196 rooms that are completely refurbished, and we’ve made some significant infrastructure improvements to the rooms. We have a new interior scheme for our lobby and bar, a partial refurbishment of our three-meal-a-day restaurant. We also had a complete refurbishment of our fine dining restaurant, and new construction of a beachside restaurant. We also significantly enhanced the landscaping – spending $4.5 million, so that has really improved the overall look and feel of the resort. It gives a much lusher feel and greater privacy to the resort.
Do you think the way Four Seasons invested in Nevis is a model for Caribbean hotel investment?
I think number one, Four Seasons has a very long-term interest in all of its hotel projects. I think more so in the Caribbean than many other regions of the world – that long-term interest is very important because most of the economies are relatively small, and need that sort of long-term synergy with big operators. When I say big, I mean in relative terms — in Nevis we’re very large – we’re the largest employer, we’re the largest business on the island. But that long-term view is important because it colors all of the decisions we make about how we work with the community, with the government and island administration, and the investments we make in capital improvements. So that long-term view of the operation and of capital investment is critical to being successful, in my view.
You grew up in Jamaica. How has the Caribbean changed since your childhood?
The ease of getting around. The reality is that sort of goes in waves– as airlift improves, things generally improve. Airlift changes for a multitude of reasons. I certainly think that getting around the Caribbean is definitely easier than it was, with a few bumps in the road. I think there is also a slightly wider view of the labor market – that is, there are signs of that easing, and that’s got to be a very good thing. To have the ability to move labor within the islands, particularly qualified professional labor, is really essential for the region’s development. There have been attempts to improve that and ease that. Those two things – improved airlift and the ability to move labor around are pretty significant developments.
What plans does Four Seasons have for the Caribbean?
We are very interested in continued growth in the Caribbean. We’ve had a number of projects on the go. We have a project in Barbados which we are still very much involved with, and which was dramatically slowed by the banking crisis. However, that is beginning to get going again. We’re very positive about that particular market, and it will be a wonderful hotel – it’s a great destination. We have a lot of brand strength in the UK and Europe, and that’s a key feeder market for Barbados. We are looking at other opportunities in other islands. We’re always on the lookout, and have a development office based in Miami, specifically tasked with Latin American and the Caribbean and finding opportunities for us. We’re very keen on getting more opportunities and the next question is – how many – and we would see another three or four as being very doable in the medium term.
How are Caribbean Four Seasons resorts different from others in the company?
I think the philosophy of Four Seasons is that all of its hotels, even the city hotels, but particularly the resorts, have a strong sense of place – that you wouldn’t mistake our hotel for being in Bali or in Vietnam or anywhere else. That it has a strong sense of identity with the local culture, and Nevis very much has that. The service standards and the culture standards that we have in the hotel are no different than our other hotels around the world. So that level of care, service, attention to detail and the commitment of the employees and management really doesn’t vary too much around the world. But the feel and ambience and the sense of involvement in the location varies in every Four Seasons hotel. And that will continue.