Barbados Renewed

A lineup of additions and expansions gives new life to the island’s luxury market.

Boasting a full roster of upscale, historic hotels and resorts, Barbados has long catered to high-end travelers looking for a taste of the Caribbean. But with many of the island’s most famous names in luxury—Sandy Lane, The Crane and Coral Reef Club—debuting new expansions or renovations in 2009, there’s nothing “old school” about the luxury market here.

Not even at one of the Caribbean’s oldest hotels, The Crane, which was established in 1887. “In the old rooms, there are stone walls and wood floors—very Old World,” describes Paul Doyle, managing director of the resort. Ambiance-wise, he says, “They haven’t changed much in 120 years.” So when the resort decided to expand to include amenities like restaurants, art galleries and a spa, he says, it was only natural to do so in Old-World style. “When we came up with the idea of adding various amenities here, we decided to do it as a town that existed back then—renovated up to the future, of course,” he explains. “It looks like an old streetscape from 120 years ago, with different shops and houses all with very traditional details: traditional doors and balconies, awnings, rooflines and wall materials. Some are coral stone blocks, coral rubble with exposed rock. There are all these different textures and finishes and colors, and it looks really authentic…. Old-timer Barbadians are amazed at how authentic it looks.” But not too authentic, he stresses. “We’ve renovated the interiors to bring them up to a modern standard, to act as various restaurants and bars and that type of thing.”

The new Crane Village will add a whole host of new amenities to the long-standing hotel, guided, Doyle says, by the guests themselves. “We spent a lot of time talking to our guests and finding out what they want,” he adds. “We already had a great Western and Eastern restaurant, so we thought Italian would fit as a nice complement to the others.” And though The Crane is a very upscale, four-diamond-rated property, the new Crane Village has “a casual side to it,” Doyle explains. “We’re all about relaxing, so you can come off the beach, throw on a T-shirt and you’re dressed for lunch.”

So what else can clients expect in the new village? “We’re moving our reception up to the village so when people get in, the first building they’ll see is our reception building,” Doyle says. “There’s an art gallery with works by Barbadian artists, and a general store,” selling resortwear and vacation necessities. A new fitness center, complete with a view over the swimming pool to the sea, and a new spa will preside over the village’s new movie theater and beauty salon. And there’s also a bakery, where, “We’ll have people baking croissants and pastries and we’ll do breakfast with our own baked goods. We designed it so the smells get out to the village,” Doyle explains. “It’s all nice, different things that people would want to do on their holidays.” And because Crane Village is located right in the middle of the resort’s 40-acre property, he continues, it’s also “a way to get to everything. Even the existing restaurants are accessed off of it. So it’s really like a town square.”

Though the new Crane Village is some of the biggest news in luxury travel on the island, Doyle says it’s far from the only enticement for travelers in 2009. As travelers struggle with a failing economy, he says, The Crane’s focus on “sensible luxury” sets it apart from other upscale properties on the island. “What we’ve marketed over the years is just a relaxing, beautiful place to come to,” he explains. “We’re very luxurious, but we keep things low-key, offer all our rooms at good prices, and we’re not over the top. We’re luxury for people who aren’t the privileged few.” In fact, he says, bookings at the resort are actually up over the previous year. “I think it’s because our ‘sensible luxury’ resonates with more people today who still want luxury but don’t want to pay ridiculous money for it. We concentrate on keeping everything great but also concentrate on providing really good value.” Rates start at $150 per room per night dbl in low season.