Riding the COVID storm through innovation – a chat with True Blue Bay Boutique Resort

Excitement is in the air! Have you heard? The Maurice Bishop airport in Grenada is due to open soon.

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Photo by True Blue Bay Boutique Hotel

I have been reaching out to a number of hotels and tourist attractions to find out how they are getting ready for the opening. Interestingly only a few responded – does this mean the majority aren’t ready for us travelling guests? I wonder…

I was delighted to be able to chat to one of True Blue Bay Boutique Resort’s friendly owners, Magdalena Fielden, and her daughter and Marketing Manager, Renatta. Having stayed at this hotel before, spent countless lunches, cocktails and dinners there and regularly popping down for their spa facilities every time we’re on the island, I was especially intruiged to see how they have been getting ready for the full re-opening.

Here is what you should know about True Blue Bay Boutique Resort:

img_0311It is a family owned and operated hotel located on the south coast about 10 minutes drive from the airport. This secluded hotel may not have a large beach but boasts lush tropical gardens, a restaurant and bar on the waterfront of True Blue with breathtaking sunsets and themed evenings, and offers plenty of activities to keep you relaxed and entertained. Whether you are into yoga, fitness, indulging spa treatments, yachting, diving, kayaking, Hobie cats, expanding your talents through cooking classes, rum and glorious chocolate tasting, liming by the pool (they have 4) or sneaking in some unique shopping – this is a strong contender for your next holiday location. I promise!411656E4-36EE-4539-81ED-9E890DA9125E

This hotel is hot on environmental sustainability and has made a lot of effort in taking the lead on offering environmentally friendly facilities – being PURE Grenada Green.

To support the promotion of exquisite Grenadian chocolate worldwide, the annual Grenada Chocolate Fest takes place at this hotel and attracts many to try out the rich and spiced chocolate Grenada has to offer. Magdalena was insipred to open a museum and cafe in 2016 – The House of Chocolate – showcasing all things chocolate but in particular the ethical chocolate making process and the variety of chocolatiers on the island.

The hotel is about 15 minutes drive from the stunning Grande Anse beach but the hotel offers daily shuttle services so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

How the pandemic affected the hotel

Magdalena recounts how they were having a great season up to February this year – the hotel and restaurant was busy! The year was all planned out and then the first shock washed over her at a cocktail party – SGU, the university in Grenada bringing in a third of the island’s revenue, was closing and sending their students home. With the university located closeby to the hotel and students renting rooms and regularly visiting their restaurant and spa facilities this meant a great amount of business disappearing.

From February the penny dropped when some cancellations started pouring in. Sadly, the last guest left on March 20th when the island shut down. Every day “graced” hoteliers with another shock.

With no revenue money runs out fast – that’s not rocket science. This has been the case for True Blue as well.

Good staff are worth gold so the owners spent a lot of time stressing the severity of the situation and reassuring their staff  that sanitation measures were in place to keep them safe. The owners had applied for payroll support from the government for April to June to be able to keep staff on. Unfortunately they only saw their payment for April. This meant that sadly some much valued staff at True Blue had to be let go but with support of the Fielden’s applying for employment support for them.

They say “family sticks together through thick and thin“. The Fieldens have certainly tried to embrace this concept with their True Blue Bay Boutique Resort family. Renatta recalls how one of their long term rental guests and an honary hotel family member, Ted, very generously donated personal funds to help those staff who were short of money to survive during this time, distributed by her dad, Russ Fielden. Even before lockdown, he donated EC$50 each to all children from staff at the hotel. Every little helps for sure! #familia

053D3FA6-2F21-46D8-AC40-A812D0F0D36CAs mentioned by Devin in my previous post, tour operators have been incredibly sneaky during this pandemic. Traditionally hotels are paid by them after the guests have left but this year so far they have used this pandemic as an excuse to keep the money to themselves to cover their own business. Good business practice? I don’t think so! Magdalena called out Virgin Holidays in particular who still owes True Blue Bay Boutique Resort money from guest stays. Quite shocking considering the overall Virgin brand spends countless millions on rocket expeditions into space but can’t even honour agreements for trips here on planet earth!

Note to self – best to book via the hotel directly and not a tour operator. Let’s support local businesses and the island by using their own websites. You’ll be surprised at the amazing offers you’ll stumble across. It just takes a little exploring. 

Magdalena and Renatta shared mixed feelings about the re-opening of the airport. They aren’t anticipating a stream of visitors to the island – potentially just returning Grenadians as many other countries still have a number of restrictions and then there are quarantine requirements to think about of course.

Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped this family run hotel to think ahead…

Using innovation to meet the challenges of COVID19

Magdalena proudly notes that her husband thrives on challenges. It’s a great opportunity to innovate and adapt which is what has kept this hotel open over the hurricaine Ivan crisis and the previous recession. COVID19 has been no different.

As the most talked about topic globally, the owners decided to create a live COVID19 document hosted on their website that outlined how they were keeping staff and long-term guests such as doctors from Cuba safe during the pandemic. As a light at the end of the tunnel emerged this document then evolved into a plan and committment of what the hotel was going to offer for re-opening. I must just emphasise at this point that True Blue Bay Boutique hotel had been the only hotel in Grenada that I came across who publicly listed out their santitation measures and how they were responding to regulations. #respect

Photo by True Blue Bay Boutique Hotel

So just how is True Blue evolving to a new era of hospitality? As a member of the Caribbean Hotel Association, Magdalena was pleased to be able to work closely with them to provide input into sustainable ways of sanitation and hospitality.

True Blue was was also excited to introduce a little bakery and ice cream shop on its premises a while ago. It is located near the entrance of the hotel where the second and larger conference center was being built. You must check it out if you are in the area!

“Funny story”, says Magdalena. “The construction of the new larger conference center had to be stopped because of the pandemic. It was supposed to have two washrooms – male and female. But we then decided to convert these two rooms into a bakery and ice cream shop. So the male washroom space changed to the bakery and the female washroom to the ice cream shop.”

Both are of course fully sanitised frequently and offer a variety of breads and favourite cakes from the House of Chocolate – oh la la – even #glutenfree and #vegan options, as well as homemade ice cream from local fruit in season.

All at local prices to support staff and residents working in the True Blue area who couldn’t frequently afford tourist prices. Good business sense in my book!

With rapid changes in regulations for hotels and restaurants, the Fieldens decided to introduce a Health and Safety Manager to the True Blue Bay Boutique Resort family. How would this be different to a hotel manager, I mused. Magdalena helped clarify. Whereas the hotel manager is responsible for overseeing all hotel activities, the Health and Safety Manager is responsible for  keeping up to date with all regulations, training staff on new sanitation procedures, ensuring all sanitation procedures are being followed and monitoring these.

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Photo by True Blue Bay Boutique Hotel

“Everything needs to be logged.” He will be supervising all the cleaning on the premises and looking for further innovative ways to introduce safe and hygenic services and facilities. For example, moving the gym equipment to an open air space by the Cocoapods temporarily for safer use and better air circulation. A further future idea is to use huts for exercising. But watch this space.

“The hotel has been accomodating doctors and returning Grenadians during this pandemic,” says Renatta. The big question on my mind was how the rest of the hotel would be kept safe from any infections.

“Currently, we are housing doctors that are from Cuba and who will be staying with us until the government has plans to move them, they currently reside in our Indigo block. The returning Grenadians come in groups and stay for 2 week periods after testing negative for COVID-19 and reside in the top section of the Resort. This section is barred off from the rest of the Resort and so no one is allowed in or out of that area until the returning Grenadians are given the clear to leave and the rooms are aired out and cleaned properly.

Our Hotel guests stay in our Cocoa pod area which is on the other side of the resort. Therefore there is no cross-section for the two different groups of people. As borders open we believe the government will no longer require returning Grenadians to Quarantine and so that section of the resort once properly cleaned will be open for guests.”

How about tackling accessibility requirements – a topic close to my heart? I thought it was refreshing to hear Magdalena’s honesty – they are working on improving accessibility for visitors but welcome any suggestions. So if you do have any suggestions, dear reader,  please just add a comment at the bottom of this blog or DM True Blue Bay Boutique Resort on Instagram or Facebook.

Photo by True Blue Bay Boutique Hotel

The hotel, apart from the spa, is fully wheelchair accessible but they are working on digitising certain things more which will make it easier not just for social distancing but also for guests with hearing impairments, for example. Sounds good to me.

Dodgy Dock, the waterfront restaurant, is well known for its themed nights. With all the new regulations this has been more challenging to offer. “The current menu offers a little of each night,” Renatta remarks, “but we are looking to re-introduce the streetfood Wednesday evening soon. Once street vendors have been certified and the restaurant has received its permits it’s all go.”

Tip: Just make sure you reserve beforehand!

“Dodgy Dock re-opened on the 16th of June”, says Magdalena, “unfortunately we got the all clear from the health inspectors later than we’d hoped so we only had one couple come for a meal that day as we had to close at 7pm. That evening was special though as the guest proposed to his girlfriend at Dodgy Dock.” What a lovely way to  re-open this much loved restaurant on the island. A celebration of love and food!

The Boutique shop is also due to open shortly with just one or two customers allowed in at one time.

A day at True Blue

So what might a day at True Blue look like for you?

It’s another sunny day in Grenada. You wake up to the chirping of birds in one of the bougainvillea bushes or palm trees near your window.

You order your breakfast to your room. You then fancy a dip in the pool so you grab your towel and pop down to one of the four pools. From a distance you can see poolside sun loungers are located in clusters around the pool. You see a notice as you get to the pool with a maximum number of people allowed by the pool area. Fortunately you can’t spot anyone there yet so you pick out your perfect spot by the pool in the sun for a spot of sunbathing. As the sun moves you remember the request not to move the chairs to ensure the social distancing. Hmmmm ok well in that case you decide to check out the water sports options by the waterfront.

You notice your deckchair is being disinfected as you leave by housekeeping. ‘That’s good’ you think to yourself.

In fact you notice that housekeeping are incredibly busy – frequently cleaning the hotel and touch points (every two hours in fact).

So as you get to the waterfront you decide to try kayaking. ‘All equipment has been disinfected before use’ you are told, and the instructor is careful to encourage social distancing where possible. ‘Excellent’ you think. ‘Let’s go!’

All this relaxing and frolocking in the water has built up an appetite so you decide to pop to Dodgy Dock for lunch – thank goodness you don’t need to reserve. You follow the spray painted turtles distancing two metres from each other on the floor and wait to be seated. You notice the tables have been seperated out and have markings around them. ‘This must be my area to relax in while I have my lunch or dinner’ you figure. Under the glass top table you notice a QR code for the menu and ordering app. ‘Oooooh very inventive’ you think to yourself. You quickly download the app with your free wifi and send your order off to the kitchen.

Time to eat……and then off to a spa treatment at Blue Haven spa. You are so chilled out after that you decide to pop back to your room and chill out before getting ready for the balcony jam. What a day!

Three things you should know

Despite all the changes happening around travel and holidays going forward Magdalena and Renatta were keen to stress three things that haven’t changed. Check it out:

Environmental sustainability stays at the heart of their of operations making every effort not to be harmful to the environment 

Photo by True Blue Bay Boutique Hotel

This includes providing reusable washable masks for staff, using non harmful cleaning chemicals often sourced locally, staying away from disposable materials like plastic as much as possible (#nostraws) and driving these as a viable option with the Caribbean Hotel Association, using very  little electricity and instead harnessing solar energy to power the hotel, planting their own fruit and vegetables round the hotel and trialling a biogas machine using seaweed as fuel to bake deliciousness in their bakery.

In fact Magdalena notes, she is hoping to offer guests the opportunity to dabble in gardening on their premises in future if they wish to.

Interesting concept.

“We’re in the hospitality industry not hospital industry”, says Renatta, “so we are putting a lot of effort into figuring out how regulations will make our guests comfortable. It should still feel like a vacation.” 

Wearing face masks can hide the simple things like a smile, for example. So a lot of thought went into the type of mask staff should be wearing going forward. Loads of local companies sent through designs and styles including a mask doubling up as a hair tie.

But you don’t just smile with your mouth but also with your eyes so a lot of encouragement has gone into reflecting the friendly great Caribbean by smiling with your eyes.

“We want to continue to be community players”. 

Magdalena reminisces about supporting staff throughout this whole time, even staff who had to be laid off. But working closer with farmers and local producers has also been an amazing experience. Lockdown has helped improve the relationships with local businesses – the island has certainly come together.

In short – guests have truly authentic and delicious food to look forward to.

Supporting local businesses has extended to continuing to support local craft vendors by offering to sell their local crafts on True Blue premises like hot sauces, local wine, cocoa butter, shampoos and even cocoa butter deodrant!

That one I must try out. Apparently very effective and 100% natural!

Final thoughts from me

Wanderlust is my third middle name (let’s not talk about the other two!) so travel is in my blood. However, this pandemic has raised a number of questions and concerns I hadn’t thought about much really. I mean who really cared about social distancing in the past?!

So chatting to Magdalena and Renatta inspired hope that through all this madness there is a light at the end of the tunnel – a relaxing and clean break away from lockdown. Bring on the summer I say! Grenada here I come….

 

 

 

 

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