St. Lucia is one of the most highly-regarded tourist destinations in the world. As a pre-eminent destination in the Caribbean, St. Lucia has been on an upward trend as a tourism hotspot since the early 1990s. It was during this blossoming period for the island that a local family opened a hotel chain that would soon become the largest family-owned hospitality company on the island.
The Bay Gardens Resort first opened its doors in 1994 at the start of the tourism boom for St. Lucia. T oday, the company has expanded to include three unique hotel destinations for tourists visiting this slice of paradise in the Caribbean. At the head of the family business is Sanovnik Destang, the second-generation Executive Director for Bay Gardens Resort. In an interview with Kreol Magazine, he divulged the past of his family company, along with tidbits of information about himself and the success of the company.
Beginning of an Empire
Now celebrating 20 y ears in operation in St. Lucia, in 1994 the Bay Gardens Resort was little more than a dream shared by husband and wife team Joyce and Desmond Destang. The retired school teachers were looking for a transition from public life to private, and decided to dip their toes in the waters of the hospitality industry.
The Bay Gardens Resort was almost the dream that didn’t become reality. Joyce Destang contemplated opening and managing an apartment complex, having had previous experience in the field. Instead, the duo decided to open Bay Gardens Hotel on some land that had been in the family for years. The original hotel had 45 rooms centred on a pool with a bar and restaurant.
Today, that original hotel has expanded through four phases of construction to include 87 rooms in total. At the turn of the 21st century, the hotel chain expanded with the purchase of the former Palm Tree hotel in 2000. When the hotel was purchased it featured just 20 rooms. Following renovations in 2002, the Palm Tree reopened as the Bay Gar dens Inn with 33 newly-renovated rooms.
The final piece of the puzzle came in 2007. With the world on the brink of a recession, the family took a gamble on a piece of land it possessed that offered the potential for beach access for its guests. The Bay Gardens Hotel and Bay Gardens Inn had survived to date without direct beach access, running shuttles to and from the beach for guests. Now the time had come f or the final, unique piece of the puzzle
In 2007, the Bay Gardens Beach Resort opened with 78 rooms and beach front villas that offered the finest in accommodation for visitors to St. Lucia. The chain of hotels that make up the company offer something f or every niche; from families to business travellers, there is a room in the Bay Gardens chain waiting.
A Different Approach
As the tourism industry in St. Lucia began to f ocus on treating all of its customers based upon their point of origin, Bay Gardens Resort took a different approach. In his own words, Sanovnik believes that Bay Gar dens is unique in St. Lucia f or the following reason:
“We catered to all markets, especially to the Caribbean market and diaspora and we felt that regardless of how you looked, your accent, your skin colour you needed to get the top level of service no matter what. In the 1990s when St. Lucia was just getting known as a tourist destination, many hotels had a reputation for differential treatment of Caribbean guests compared to guests from the U.K, US and so on. But at Bay Gardens we are colour blind, we treat everyone the same”.
Whatever the method in the madness for Bay Gardens Resort is, it is working. The small, yet intimate Bay Gardens Inn was given the Gold Award for the Best Small Hotel in the Caribbean from Virgin Holidays just four years after it opened. The hotel chain’ s f ormer General Manager, now- Senator Berthia Parle, was the first female to lead the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association as the group’s president.
It seemed at one point that Sanovnik Destang would not follow in the footsteps of his parents. While the Bay Gardens Resort was going through its various phases of growth, a young Sanovnik was away in Toronto, Canada attending school at York University. While living in Canada, he studied finance and accounting.
After graduating top of his class, Sanovnik actually contemplated staying in Canada. He spent four years working for KPMG in the audits, acquisitions, and mergers department. After earning his CA and CFA, he felt an itch to move. Following the birth of his son, neither he nor his wife could see a future in Canada anymore.
The couple wanted to see their young son grow up closer to his cultural roots in St. Lucia, so back home to the Caribbean they went. It wasn’t long before Sanovnik and his wife were both involved in the family business at Bay Gardens Resort. For his part, Sanovnik believes his educational and real-world experience in finance and business set him up perfectly for a career in the family business.
Today, he serves as the Executive Director for Bay Gardens Resort, but his titles and accolades do not stop there. In addition to being named a Rising Star by the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Summit, Sanovnik also serves as Director of Large Hotels for the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association. In that position he has helped the tourism industry cope with the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT) and launched a restaurant promotion known as Summerlicious. The promotion offers discounted prefixes and fixed menus to help local restaurants improve profit margins.
Ask Sanovnik about his personal motivations and goals, and you’ll find a humble man ready with an answer that brings you back down to Earth quickly. He views his greatest accomplishment in life as those of his son, Antoine. Seeing his son achieve more than he could or did at his age is what Sanovnik views as his greatest achievement.
As for motivation, he will guarantee you that the thrill of competition means much more to him than money. The joy of succeeding in achieving goals he sets for himself or the company brings him more joy than profits and income. Another motivation; he’d love to see more members of younger generations involved in the hospitality industry.
As a new generation entrepreneur in St. Lucia’s tourism industry, his message to the future generations is simple:
“It is an industry that you need to have a passion for otherwise it will eat away at you and kill you. It is very demanding but very rewarding especially for persons in the Caribbean because the tourism industry is our bread and butter. You would like for it to be something else maybe, but for the time being we need to accept it. It is an industry that needs our best and brightest. Never think that the tourism sector is for a particular type of person, the face of the Tourism industry is changing”.
With Sanovnik Destang as an example, the tourism industry in St. Lucia can expect to see more dedicated, local entrepreneurs guiding the future success of the island’s greatest economic asset.