The 294-room Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas is the only fully all-inclusive hotel in the USVI, perched along a cliff overlooking one of the island’s best beaches. Long a favorite for budget-conscious groups, the property is undergoing an 18-month renovation following its rebranding this summer when it absolved its relationship with the Wyndham Hotels group.
The inherent all-inclusive value is further enhanced by a wide array of onsite amenities for both business events and group teambuilding activities. The rooftop meeting space, as well as the grand terraces of the Manor House restaurant, feature jawdropping views of the nearby British Virgin Islands. The beach, pool and watersports center are among the most comprehensive in the USVI, including all kinds of charter opportunities to the BVI and sister American island of St. John.
Another big added bonus, the northern location is just minutes from Red Hook Harbor where public ferries make the 40-minute crossing to St. John and its vaunted world-class beaches. For those who prefer to stay put, the 10,000-sf standalone Journeys Spa features myriad wellness programs and tropically inspired treatments. Treat yourself to their Caribbean green coffee wrap. Total meeting space at Sugar Bay is 16,560 sf.
We spoke with to Bill Heaney, who is on a task force assisting with the hotel’s marketing, about the evolution of Sugar Bay.
Prevue: What types of groups do you host at Sugar Bay Resort?
BH: Many of our groups use 30-100 rooms and they come a lot from the incentive side of the business. We have the meetings facilities to host associations but most of our meetings are board meetings. In the spring and fall we have an enormous amount of group business. Lots of groups in June, lots in April and lots in May. I know that for next year we’re budgeting that almost 30% of our mix will be group business.
What does the renovation entail?
As we speak, a lot is going on. We’re developing another specialty restaurant which will be a steak and seafood restaurant. We have Ristorante Baci, our elegant specialty Italian restaurant and we have a few more restaurants and bars. We’re also updating our second pool and adding a swim-up bar under the waterfall, and all of our public areas are being enhanced.
Then, over the next 18 months, all of the rooms are going to be renovated. Our biggest problem is that we’re going to be busy. We have to do this project in accordance to the demand.
What are some of the hotel’s top selling points?
I think being all-inclusive is a big selling point, period. Secondly, when you’re selling a resort in the Caribbean, do you know what the most important thing is? Having the right beach. Some of the resorts in the Caribbean don’t really have a fantastic beach and I just don’t get it. That’s a big seller for us. You can snorkel and you can go out safely. It’s a beautiful beach and it’s in a wonderful setting.
We are blessed–we have the most spectacular views. We’re on the northern side of the island and we have aquamarine clear Caribbean Sea with all kinds of magnificent islands. When you sit in our restaurants and bars you can look up and see St. John and the British Virgins. It’s a totally different view and it’s fantastic.
We also have experienced folks on site. When groups arrive all the folks on duty can be called into the library and we’ll have welcome wine as people came in. We really appreciate our group business so I think that’s another nice selling point.
The other thing is that you don’t need a passport in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I really think that’s a major selling point for corporations that are going to be rewarding their people and want to take them to a nice, wholesome place.
Do a lot of groups take advantage of neighboring islands?
Absolutely. Everyone goes to St. John and everyone loves to see Trunk Bay. Actually, I think another selling point for the property is Red Hook itself. Red Hook has just developed over the last five or 10 years into a wonderful village. When I was there last, I sat in a sports bar watching football games on 14 different screens. You really don’t have that in a number of other Caribbean destinations. And Red Hook is so close. It’s a $5 cab ride. It’s fun to be around and it’s not overpopulated.
Why should meeting planners consider Sugar Bay for their groups?
I think that the value comes in its location and site. It’s very different and special to have that beautiful scenery at your beck and call, and that it’s easily accessible. Once you get to the resort, the all-inclusive part ensures you don’t get ‘soft drinked’ to death.
What this means is that if you’re in a regular resort and you want to get a soda, it costs you a couple of dollars. If you do this five or six times a day, by the end of the day you’ve gotten soft drinked to death. With us it’s all included. You can have as many soft drinks as you want. Whether you drink alcohol or not, it’s a great value.
On top of that we have a great variety of food. There are times when you want to sit and have a leisurely meal, and we have our specialty restaurants for that. However, if you want to grab a quick bite then we have buffets and restaurants cooking fresh. It’s easy and quick and people like that. The fact that we have this variety of buffets allows us to take away the decision-making process from customers. I think it’s the whole idea of one big fun time going on that sets us apart.
We also have many other amenities. We have an amazing spa for treatments. We also have a great health club for people to work out in the morning. The grounds are great, too. I think that’s what offers the value.
I was sitting at one of the restaurants the other day, looking out at the pool, and there were half a dozen couples playing volleyball. All of the sudden a server walks toward the pool with a whole tray of beverages and there wasn’t the issue of signing for your beverages or anything. Again, it was just easy.
What’s an amazing event that you can create on property that really takes advantage of the attributes of the hotel?
Well I think our Carnival Night is a spectacular event with the fire dancers and getting the crowd involved. All of our themed events do the same thing but I’m just pointing out our Carnival Night.
We also have some very sophisticated places for that very special cocktail party. We have two terraces. Then we have the Manor House, which has floor to ceiling windows and connects to the Ocean Terrace, which can be used for parties or as pre-function space for meetings.
A few weeks ago it was full moon time and a group was having a party out there while the moon was shining on the bay. How can you create an event like that anywhere else? It’s just very special. For people who want to host a sunrise event, the sun rises right smack dab in front of the resort. It comes up behind St. John. Our terraces are quite large and can hold a couple hundred people. With the beach and pool area the kinds of events that we can do are pretty special.
We can close off the restaurant and the ocean terrace for private events. If we have a group booking 50-70 rooms then that’s a large chunk of booking. The resort is big enough where we can have the other restaurant open for other guests and can use those terraces for private events without affecting the other hotel guests. It really makes groups and meeting planners feel much more special.