What keeps you up all night? Work, taxes and teenagers are typically the top three for most families.
But what about those people who spend every working day making vacations memorable for those very same families? What keeps timeshare resort operators up all night? What burrows deep into their thoughts when they are otherwise trying to get some shut-eye?
In the first part of a new series, Resort Trades contacted several GM’s and CFO’s at resorts across the country (and beyond) to find out what makes them toss and turn while most people are sleeping. Here’s their top three:
Hurricanes, delinquencies and aging owners.
Steve Buckley, GM of Bluebeard’s Castle Resort in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, owns the hurricane nightmare.
“We are always on storm alert,” Buckley said. “We’ve had many dress rehearsals and fire drills where you stay awake through the whole thing.”
Other weather monsters — violent thunderstorms that blow out generators and cause massive flooding and hillside mudslides — keep Buckley busy too. But in nearly three years at the resort, he said, “we’ve had scary possibilities but no devastating problems.”
Bluebeard’s is a typical hot and humid Caribbean resort, appealing to customers on the East Coast, Midwest and Europe who are fleeing winter weather. Peak season is December through early May, with their annual Carnival month in April. February is their busiest month — during the heart of winter in the US. The long sold-out resort is populated by loyalist fixed-week owners who can also rent their intervals through the management company, SPM Resorts, when not in the mood to use or exchange their units. The villas rent for $150-$200 a night, and the rental business is robust.
Beyond battening the hatches for incoming tropical thunderbolts, Bluebeard’s grapples with all the attendant issues of a hot weather resort— including a Sahara Desert-like condition in springtime when heat and haze hover over St. Thomas like an aerial sand trap, covering all the cars with a fine coat of dirt from — according to local legend — the Sahara.
“Weather is one of our charms,” Buckley says. “The insurance companies like to watch us, too, because we have to be covered for everything.”
No surprise, given Mother Nature’s grip on the island, that Bluebeard’s spends a lot of money on sun, wind and water damage repairs, exterior weathering and internal renovations.
Buckley also has to finesse the finer points of dealing with 25 board members who sit on five homeowner associations — each with its own budget — that own the resort. A service-oriented staff and well trained department heads make it all work. Without a great team, he said, he’d get very little sleep whatsoever.
The resort has 170 one-bedroom and studio units. During peak season, Bluebeard’s can house 680 to 700 people at full capacity — without having to stash anyone in the historic castle tower that gives the resort its unique look and feel.
Built on a protective hill that overlooks the ocean, the tower opened its doors in 1665 to Danish settlers. In 1672, the Danes built a fort around the tower to protect the town from pirates — and a guy named Bluebeard, whose pirate legend outlasted ensuing occupations by British soldiers, among others. Today, it’s a full-scale tourist museum surrounded by timeshares where everyone speaks English, regardless of their heritage.
The mountainous island of St. Thomas caters to families and cruise ships seeking to tap into Bluebeard’s adventurous spirit. The ocean view Bluebeard’s resort caters to owners seeking a long respite from the mainland. The resort is completely private and a 10-minute walk from the ocean.
“We have many owners who own four to eight weeks. They love the castle. So instead of buying a second home, they just come here,” Buckley said. When SPM started managing the property and launched annual renovations, longtime owners told Buckley, “they actually want to stay longer. They’d rather come back than exchange.”
In addition to reinvesting in the resort, SPM provided Bluebeard’s with new services for longtime owners, including handling resale transfers on site. Last year, the resort coordinated 60 resale transfers — up from zero the year before.
With summer straight ahead, the future is full of fabulous horizon views and spectacular sunsets for Bluebeard’s — as long as the weather behaves. “Summer time is our slower period. In July and August, you’ve got to love humidity to come here but it’s the least expensive time to visit. We’re all OK as long as there’s air conditioning,” Buckley said.
And a good early warning system for severe changes in tropical weather systems, something in which the island resorts excel.“I am happy to have the fire drills. It keeps us on our toes,” Buckley said.
About Steve Buckley
Steve Buckley is in his third year as GM at Bluebeard’s Castle. He’s been with SPM Resorts for 10 years and previously managed SPM resorts in Orlando and Cape Cod. He’s been in the hospitality business for 35 years and got his start as a reservationist at Regent International hotels in California.