Welcoming you back to Grenada – an interview with Le Phare Bleu

With Grenada almost COVID19 free the one question on a lot of our minds is – when can I escape to the sunny Caribbean again? It has been interesting to see how hotels and businesses are preparing to re-introduce visitors to the island. No actual date has been confirmed yet but if you are as eager to travel as me, the opening date to international visitors can’t come soon enough.

Having reached out to numerous hotels and tourist attractions in Grenada Le Phare Bleu were the first to respond with their thoughts.

Photo by Le Phare Bleu – Instagram

I must preface this post by mentioning that no set guidelines have been officially issued by the Grenada Tourism Authority while writing this post – consultation with stakeholders is still ongoing but looking promising with well-thought out measures being advocated. Still a little proactiveness says a lot about a business and how much they value customers in my book.

Here’s what you need to know about Le Phare Bleu:

Located on the waterfront in Petite Calivigny Bay (around 20 minutes drive from the airport) it is a small business that is family friendly and casual in nature. Its property boasts natural space between rooms, independent cottages and its Village.  The marina resort village offers guests a tropical home from home feel through personalised tours of their gin distillery, the Meat & Meet local organic butchery, a historic lightship, a restaurant and bar right on the waterfront called Island Fever Tropical Tavern making you forget time, a pool, beach of course and live musical performances by Sabrina Francis on Friday nights. It’s a naturally peaceful and tranquil environment that is so close yet so far away from all the action. Guests have said to fall in love with the open and natural environment.   

I spoke with Devin Nelles, Managing Partner of the hotel and marina, on how the pandemic has affected Le Phare Bleu and how he plans to get this boutique resort ready for re-opening.

How has the lockdown in Grenada affected your business? 

In Grenada many hotels and resorts face two main challenges:

  1. Tour operators not paying – typically they pay out for a guest’s stay 30 days after departure. Many properties are unsuccessfully trying to get these funds for stays as far back as January.
  2. Refunding cancellation deposits – whereas resorts usually take a 50% deposit to guarantee dates and rooms this needs to be refunded if cancelled more than 30 days prior to their stay. Businesses in Grenada depend so much on this cashflow to continue operating. Having to pay back money when business has suddenly stopped puts so many businesses at great risk.

“We are in a survival mode of operating at the moment, but, we are lucky as we have a marina. Now as we enter hurricane season many boats sail south to Grenada so this will help get us through this period hopefully. We will however have empty rooms and have had a closed restaurant for almost 3 months. This has a great cost in maintenance. We have gardens to keep, equipment to hopefully keep, cleaning of public spaces, and many other ongoing operating costs that keep going regardless.”

And what about you personally? 

“We don’t know when we will be able to pay ourselves again. We don’t know when we will be able to travel to Canada again to see friends and family and take care of personal things there. We don’t have a choice but to figure out a way to survive. We are healthy and safe at the moment so we can be thankful for that. We have certainly been affected in so many ways in business and personally, that we just have to look at things differently and move forward.”

So how have you been supporting your staff during this time? 

Le Phare Bleu has kept some staff on who live on site to take care of general maintenance and gardening and are provided with meals and full pay. Rotated cleaning shifts have been provided to others.

“When our restaurant closed we had been quite busy and therefore had a lot of food stock. We made care packages of staples like flour, lentils, beans, pasta, sugar, milk, etc. and sent everyone home with staples. We also paid 1 week per team member per month and applied for payroll support from the government.”

That would have helped a fair bit I’m sure. How are your staff being prepared for the re-opening of the hotel and marina? 

Various signs and information sheets have been distributed to staff to keep all the main Covid protocol points fresh in their minds. Informal chats about how operations, service, and customer perceptions will change have been conducted as well as discussing how the operation will have to adapt and what everyone can do to help facilitate.

“The Hotel and Tourism Association has also offered some Zoom training sessions speaking about new cleaning protocols etc.”

What’s their response been? 

“I think the team has reacted surprisingly well. Everyone has been very understanding about the situation. We have been fortunate enough to be able to keep the majority of our team so they are grateful and have expressed this.”

 

Keeping the hotel and marina virus free

It’s all about sanitising so what is your sanitising regime for Le Phare Bleu? 

“We have pump bottles of hand santizer located around different entrances. We have extra spray bottles of sanitising solution for surfaces and staff are cleaning more regularly for both front and back of house. We also have and increased the cleaning schedule for all washrooms and public areas from the housekeeping side. We also created cleaning protocols for staff change areas and lunch areas and made it so people take turns getting ready and with lunch breaks to keep distancing measures up.”

Are there any other ways you’ve reminded staff of the new cleaning processes? 

There is extra signage for guest and staff areas such as hygiene reminders and these are located in common areas.

How will your day to day cleaning change?

Rounds of cleaning have been increased to ensure people feel safe and comfortable in all areas.  Multiple staff make regular sweeps either physically wiping things clean or using spray santizers on door knobs, taps, rails, and carts.

There is a lot of talk about wearing masks and gloves as a preventative measure. Will your staff be required to wear these at all times? 

“We will have to wear masks for the moment and up until it becomes safe not to. We always used disposable food safety gloves in our operation and will make these available for other uses now such as passing a food item to someone. Gloves themselves are not safe unless they are clean. Therefore in many cases hand washing is actually safer than gloves as gloves provide a false sense of security if not used properly.

We have purchased some nice masks from Artfabrik that can be washed. These will be supplemental masks for staff. Masks seem to be part of fashion in general all around the world now.”

So what happens if someone is suspected to have COVID19? 

“Technically everyone must go through the Ministry of Health and call the Covid hotline. They come down and test people and then organise the quarantine. We have a room ready for this in case we need to quarantine  but that would depend on the Ministry of Health’s decision. We also have an on call Doctor or Nurse available anytime.”

A second spike is a real concern as the season starts in December. If we miss the next high season it will be even more difficult financially for so many businesses. To support the quick and safe quarantine efforts, Le Phare Bleu, as a new standard, ask their staff a number of questions before each shift including a symptoms list and if they know anyone or live with anyone who has symptoms.

“We will have to keep a list of people coming through the resort with some form of contact be it phone or email. The Covid Contact Tracing team (Grenada Ministry of Health Covid team) would then use this to start tracing and contacting people should a new case present itself. But, we would have to have a log.”

And for our sailing friends are there any changes to berthing at your marina? 

“Most of the boats here are being stored long term. Any new boat has to quarantine for 2 weeks and be tested before being allowed to move out of the quarantine zone and then enter our marina.”

The art of social distancing

So just how will social distancing work at Le Phare Bleu? 

“We have removed tables and ensured everything is spaced out accordingly. We will also be offering menu-less service where we WhatsApp customers menus and allow them to order through WhatsApp to a phone placed at the bar/cashier area.

For people without technology we will have a table with menus for them to look at and then order socially distantly with staff.

For reception we actually placed a desk blocking the entrance so conversations have to be done distantly. As our property is spread out and rooms are independent cottages we have a natural distance built in as well.

Photo by Le Phare Bleu – Instagram

The Butchery and Gin distillery are separate businesses. We don’t own or operate them. I can say that the butchery in the beginning was delivering to vehicles or dinghies as we had closed off the entire resort to the outside. Now as things have relaxed with Grenada being under control they allow one customer in at a time. The Gin distillery is not yet open for tours and that part remains to be seen as things will inevitably change.

Small boutique companies that have provided tours in the past would easily be able to offer socially distant tours going forward. Kayaks are naturally distant from each other and outdoors. It would just be the orientation where they would have to be cautious where they board and disembark. But, it is a very limited opportunity for contact especially since they don’t take many people at the same time.”

So will you need to limit the number of guests coming to Le Phare Bleu by land or sea?

“We have the luxury of space. Our restaurant, lightship, pool area, and lawn area are actually quite spread out and can accommodate a fair amount of people all very spread out. We may not be able to re-open the lightship in the immediate future. The marina is open currently but there are strict protocols for 2 week quarantine and testing at first point of entry in Grenada (Currently only allowed in Carriacou and St Georges).”

Photo by Le Phare Bleu – Instagram

As an advocate for accessibility I have to ask – how are you supporting guests with accessibility needs?  

Face masks can cause an obstacle for hearing impaired guests.

“I think the menuless service and using WhatsApp directly for ordering solves this issue quite well. If someone had a visual impairment then everything would have to be communicated verbally. We are wheelchair accessible and have a ramp access to the restaurant so this would just be normal service. ”

The silver lining

They say “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” – have the last few months presented any opportunities for your business? 

“It’s provided the opportunity to think about what is important to us and what we want to focus on moving forward. It’s provided time to work on projects that always get pushed to the back burner. It’s given us the opportunity to work on our message moving forward.

We have started creating content for the future and revisiting menus. Streamlining certain processes. This digital menu concept and trying to launch a menuless service should be interesting. I’m sure it will present new challenges.

Sabrina Francis (our house band on Friday nights on the Lightship) has been doing virtual concerts and shows and has been very successful digitally with launching her new music. Some of her new songs have more than a million views on Youtube. So, that’s been very positive for the music of Grenada and we have been proud to be a part of it.

Another service we thought of is to offer people a blanket so they can have a picnic on the lawn. It’s definitely socially distant and open air so should provide comfort while creating a unique experience.”

We also have been talking to the team about the village and tenants and encouraging them to act as ambassadors to our little village.

Imagine you came for a meal and your waiter let you know you could walk down to the Lightship and climb to the top of the lighthouse; or walked you back to the gin distillery a for a quick tour and gin tasting; or walked you over to the butcher to discover some interesting local product there for dinner on another night.

We hope to be able to have these interesting experiences that could be quite unique to our resort space with all the different offerings.

The bottom line

So what will all these changes mean for Le Phare Bleu? 

They will affect our business in so many ways which still needs to be figured out. Initially there will be no price changes. For now all we can do is find a way to solve these challenges and then review and re-tool as we go through it. The great hope is that this will eventually pass so we will just have to wait and see.

Le Phare Bleu has been well known for its dinghy concerts on the water. When will start up again? 

We probably won’t be able to offer a dinghy concert until possibly some times in late 2021 or into 2022. We are unable to offer this socially distant as there is really limited space and to make it viable it needs to be full.

Photo by Le Phare Bleu – Instagram

So finally what would you like future guests to know about Le Phare Bleu? 

“Our main thing is that we have space and much of it is open space. So, this offers a natural security.”

Guests will see the effort to limit the personal contact, the different sanitising measures in the restaurant for example and various ways of communicating such as new signage.

 

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