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Dominica Resort

Dominica Resort

 

The Commonwealth of Dominica - not to be confused with the Dominican Republic - has an abundance of almost everything that a touring or resident nature lover could wish for; from the ever verdant high and low elevations, sculptured valleys and river canyons to the crystal clear volcanic waters that attract such elegant sea life such as turtles, endless dolphins and the ever migrating whale population.

One would think that with this arsenal of attractions, the island would be to the brim with eco-minded travellers and traditional holidaymakers alike - certainly through the high season winter months anyway - but this seems not to be the case.

One of the many reasons for this is that the 'abundance of almost everything' in Dominica that I'm talking about does not include one of the main components necessary for a marketable Caribbean tourist destination; to whit, enough first class accommodation in the mode of easily reachable and efficient beachfront resorts and hotels.

These observations always rise to the top of the glass when a property within the category I've been alluding to comes up for sale; the current listing of one of only three prime Dominica shore side locations, Sunset Bay Club Beach Resort is no exception.


Sunset Bay Club Resort - Dominica

Of course, web sites can furnish the reader with many specs and schematics when it comes to putting properties on the market - from acreage to room sizes, from cellars to attics, the cost per square foot, the number of heads on pillows and so on; what often is not mentioned is the circumstances leading up to the design of the building(s), the ifs and buts regarding location, the passion and devotion ploughed into the project from earth breaking to completion and the joy - or heartbreak - that can sometimes ensue.

This is - I hope - an intriguing insight into the history of Sunset Bay Club Beach Resort situated on the popular, sunny west coast of Dominica.

The present owners of Sunset Bay Club Beach Resort are Roger & Marcella Dutrieux-Cools , originally successful restaurant entrepreneurs from Ostend in Belgium.

This adventurous couple unveiled their wanderlust for the Caribbean in 1995 and set about pursuing a dream of finding an idyllic location for a tropical restaurant, preferably on an island that was not too overly developed.



A Few Blurred Maps

On the directive from Marcella, Master Chef Roger was duly dispatched from his homeland with a Caribbean Island Hopper ticket, a rucksack, a few blurred maps and ample rustic footwear to explore the West Indies' nether regions.

To keep right on the button, some islands he found were definitely not in the frame for a variety of reasons: "I found myself around beaches with tourists running amok, devoid of no consideration for the natural wellbeing of the host land; I was determined to be part of a community that was proud of its eco treasures and not too financially driven that these treasures were overlooked" says Roger."It wouldn't be fair to single out certain places against others, " he expanded, "Suffice to say that when a friend told me that Dominica was climbing above the first rung of the tourist ladder of destinations, I centred my thoughts on this island and some pieces of land he knew of that were up for sale but not yet listed."

Armed with a little inside knowledge and a visional instinct for developing a property that to others may have seemed somewhat expensive and tedious at best, he finally whittled his Dominica choices down to a 2.4 acre plot at the southernmost curve of Batalie Beach.

 

Dominica Resort

Batalie Beach - Dominica

 

More than a Boutique Hotel

This briny area bounds perfectly with the Caribbean Sea, about 2 miles above the quaint town of Salisbury and from a freshwater perspective, a gentle flowing river forms its northern boundary. It was apparent to Roger that this feature alone would make this project very special indeed, two separate aquatic treasures that meet, no less.

He conjured up an image in his mind; an abstract version of what a Dominican boutique hotel with extras could look like.
Dominica Hotel

As one reference source puts it: The term ‘Boutique Hotel' originated in North America and the United Kingdom in the 1980's. It describes an intimate, usually up market and unique hotel experience.

Boutique hotels are always individual and are therefore unlikely to be found amongst the mainstream of large chain hotel groups. Guest rooms can be fitted with telephony & Wi-Fi Internet and cable TV - but equally may not have any of these, focusing on quiet and comfort rather than gadgetry.

With the diving facility, trekking trails and nearby waterfalls, Sunset Bay is rather more than boutique.

Of course with these parameters, Roger formulated his plan that would come to fruition on the drawing boards in Belgium. The civil engineering - i.e. the roads and infrastructure - would commence with cutting an accessible path from the main road to what is now an extensive car park, situated below chiselled cliffs that exude the essence of Dominican strata, a gradual descent of 120 feet or so.

The interesting task here was how to ‘marry' the lower and higher elevations into one entity - there was scope to build some stand alone properties at main road level, (more of that later) - but, as he told me: "I sat by myself on the beach and although the views of the horizon were and still are stunning, the land was total bush and virgin with not a structure in sight. I pondered on how much of the natural topography should I change in the pursuit of a personal ambition and deliberated that the way ahead would be decided by discussion between myself, Marcella and our dependable friends in Ostend. There are no shareholders, Laurie"

So, armed with a sunnier disposition than when he arrived in Dominica, a healthier tan and a reddish peeling nose he returned to Europe to put the second part of the plan in action.

 

Dominica Resort


Construction of the Sunset Bay Club Resort

What happened next will help sum up the uniqueness of the Sunset Bay development.

After a confirmation of available funds and assets, a proposed spacious bar/restaurant, office & reception area, a laundry, 6 double rooms, 4 quadruple rooms and a separate guest cottage were in the planning pipeline; a spa and dive centre were also possible additions depending on the as and when factor. Major hardware and fittings for the extensive kitchen, sophisticated plumbing equipment and other necessary apparatus was custom made in Belgium and transported to the Caribbean in a variety of containers.

This was a case of, shall we say, the heart, the lungs and vital organs of the project being in transit before the skin and bones were in place.

When the building site was in full swing circa 1996-97, an amalgam of the best masons and carpenters from Dominica were rubbing shoulders with top construction gurus from Belgium.

There was no way that this venture was compromised in the pursuance of a quality product; indeed, many involved in the ‘hands-on' side of the operation saw it as a niche inclusion on their professional resume. Roger did mention to me, lightheartedly through a Gallic chuckle, that there were stories and funny ha-ha! events that were poignant through the construction stage, but not suitable for this page, sorry!

So the bricks and mortar were in place, the colour schemes chosen and exotic plants and trees sourced from all over the island to give the property a blaze of tropical beauty.

 

Dominica Resort

The Swimming Pool at Sunset Beach Resort




Avec a Courteous Manner

The roads and pathways were continually swept and manicured. The task in hand now was to select the staff from the numerous applicants. Each person was vetted by Roger and Marcella so they could establish the talent - or lack of it - that each individual possessed.

From front-of-house to kitchen porters, gardeners to security, waiters to beach attendants, a total of 30 positions to fill. As Roger puts it, "We were looking for people that could deal with the guests directly and make them feel welcome.

They had to be proud of what Sunset Bay was trying to achieve; behind the scenes too, every little job, no matter how menial had to be done with a sense of satisfaction." Marcella had a more pragmatic outlook at this point, "The service industry requires skills that are up front and sometimes clothed in subtlety - recognizing which is a skill in itself, but what is clear is that you can't teach a tone deaf person how to sing, n'est ce pas? So at this point we have to get it right".

Getting it right seems to have come to fruition because through the period leading up to the official opening - commonly known as a 'dry run' - Roger was quite amazed that his team, from a country that was a rookie in the tourist league was au naturel in the way they interacted with the guests, in his words: "Avec a courteous manner."



A Dominica Resort Story

Eventually, the 27th of October 1997 came along and our featured project opened its doors for business, suitably acknowledged at a major reception.

The event was attended by members of government Dominica's social elite, visiting travel agents and a few Belgian dignitaries; a large sprinkling of glitzy 'bling' was in evidence, the night was starlit - and in Dominica's pure unpolluted air every one of those stars must have been visible.

To all and sundry, it was obvious that the Sunset Bay Beach Club & Resort had arrived and was to become a major addition to the Commonwealth of Dominica's tourism product. A cabinet minister at the time was heard on his cell phone lauding the efforts of Roger and Marcella and instructing his underlings to 'go' find something else similar we can develop. Now!'

With the growing popularity and ease of online booking and internet access, the 'sky's the limit' phrase seemed apt when talking of future marketing. The record shows that through the ensuing years Sunset Bay's profit graph has shown a definite upward curve.

As with any business, the urge to improve on the previous year's figures is a normal progression and can only be achieved with grit and hard work or the injection of new blood; as far as Sunset Bay Beach Resort is concerned it was both.

In 2005, Mme. Fredrique Huard came on board effectively as Head of Management, but she is eager to point out that her responsibilities for the hotel go much further than that. "A manager" she explains," is in control of the day to day running of the resort, staff issues, and maintenance plus peripheral matters. I am in fact an International Market Developer with the job of making travel agencies and vacation seekers alike aware of what Sunset Bay Beach Club has to offer.

When I arrived here after many years of hotel experience, I found the operation so well organized that I had ample time to pursue my development plans. The challenge has been exhilarating and noticeable progress has been made in marketing Sunset Bay across the European market, particularly in Austria where there is great interest in eco destinations.

Of course word of mouth is the strongest recommendation that any hotel could have; more effective than brochures and in some cases even websites.

Our percentage of returning guests is very high and more often than not they are accompanied by first timers and so it goes on. Not surprisingly, the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique provide a steady flow of maritime visitors to the bay where mooring is free.

As our staff speak French fluently, these guys settle in very comfortably, one could say almost seamlessly. Canadian and US investors often meet here for seminars and a spot of relaxation.

The emphasis of our conversation then turned to the possibilities of expanding the hotel's potential re: accommodation and conference room facilities.

Fredrique went on to say, "The 34 beds now in use could be increased to 42 with the addition of 2 vacant staff houses, plus there is scope to add another 20 rooms, even a conference centre by either building above or economically using the available space at ground level."

She elaborated further," There is also a possibility of building at least 2 villas adjacent to the main road. For the incoming owners to achieve this upgrade, all that is needed is little vision, wise funding and a deep appreciation of how the 'team' works." At that timely point, a guest's birthday celebration was just about to take off in the restaurant a little away from us; at least six of the staff popped up in a buoyant mood with candles and flaming Baked Alaska on parade to ensure that this event would be a not-to- be forgotten moment. The sceptics would say, 'That's not unusual, it often happens in the best hotels'....well, that suggests to me then that Sunset Bay Beach Resort have got it right then, eh!?

 

 Dominica Resort

Fredrique takes another reservation for the nights evening meal 

 

Fostered Friendships

If someone is passing the property with time on their hands, I suggest they call in and take a look at the Livre d'or or commonly known as the Guest Comments Book. One, two or three inserts that lingered a little with me went something a little like this:

    "We didn't know what to expect on our odyssey into the mystical island of Dominica. We are inner city folks from Toronto that could not believe how much there was to do within a half an hour's distance from Sunset Bay. The sincerity and help shown by the crew will remain with us till the next time."
    V. Bingham and family.

    "This vacation at Sunset Bay was for us in mid-August 2007. Who could have known that Hurricane Dean would try to sign in as well? No matter how we were pounded, the service to us plus the buildings remained intact and friendships were fostered; so much so that we stayed longer than originally booked to see Dominica spring back from one of its heaviest storms Thankfully they don't come that often."
    Geoffrey Collins. Matlock. Derbyshire

    "Un second séjour à la hauteur des souvenirs du premier! Un merveilleux moment et au moment de partir une furieuse envie de revenir
    Alice du Mourier. Toulouse. France.


West Coast Sunset

As the hour was moving closer to evening I decided to stay awhile and catch the well fabled west coast sunset.

The pink and orange hues were already in place; visitors and locals brandishing an assortment of digital cameras were busy choosing their spot to capture what seemed to an impending 'Green Flash' - you know, that phenomenon where the colours of green and blue stay above the shaded arc of red and orange, this being the last sight you see before the sun dips below the horizon.

Well it couldn't have turned out better if one had stage managed it; just another plus sign for this wonderful piece of real estate.

Roger & Marcella Dutrieux-Cools are ready to move onto another pasture and spend more time with their grandchildren in Europe. So Sunset Bay Beach is now for sale and the ad reads...One careful owner looking for another careful owner to purchase beautiful example of a successful 'more than a boutique' hotel, one the green island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean.

For those out there in the big somewhere who would relish a sizeable return on their investment, Sunset Bay Beach Club Resort & Spa is set to go from strength to strength and I wish Fredrique and her staff good fortune in the years to come.

 

Dominica Resort

Text and Images Copyright 2008-2010   Caribbean Land and Property

Dominica Resort
Last Updated On 22 Mar 2017