Hotel group begins training program

American Express is funding four sessions to train 200 tourism employees in a program called "Total Service: The USVI is Quality."  The classes are to be held during the latter part of this month.  "Our mission is to represent, protect, promote, and educate our … members who employ … over 8,000 industry professionals, " said Beverly Nicholson, president of the USVI Hotel Association.  The course focuses on staff who work with tourists: receptionists, bell hops, floor staff, food and drinks personnel, according to a report by Caribbean Net News.  The Taxi Association also expressed interest in a similar training program. (AMEN!)

WESTIN names new executive chef

(I got it wrong.  It’s the Westin, not Caneel.  here’s a Daily News story link, too.)

Roland Czekelius, who was a cook at Caneel Bay
in the ’80s, has returned to the island as the new executive chef at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas. He’s
been on the mainland for the past 25 years, including positions as top
chef at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, according to a report of his hiring in the Virgin Islands Daily News.  "A lot of the ladies who worked in the pantry and kitchen now work at the Westin,"
Czekelius said.  "I had to tell then, ‘Remember the little Austrian, 25
years ago?’  Then they were giving me hugs."  Czekelius said he wanted
to return to the Caribbean and interviewed for slots on Peter Island
and Turks and Caicos before taking the  CaneeloWestin position.  He expects to
rework the resort’s menus, adding more gourmet and
Mediterranean-inspired items, the Daily News said.

USVI Culinary team wins honors

The USVI team took home a bronze medal for its performance in the Taste of the Caribbean Cook-off at the recent Caribbean Hotel Industry Conference.
More than a dozen teams from islands competed.  The USVI team’s Steve
Potter received a gold medal as best bartender, according to the Virgin Islands Daily News and the team won a special citation for "Best Use of Bitters."

Pamela Richards, the VI Commissioner of Tourism,
attended the conference, along with about 1,000 other hospitality
industry executives, hotel suppliers, government officials and travel
writers.  Some attendees went shopping in the exhibit area.   The GM of
the Westin St. John was also on hand. A St. Croix hotel manager
said he was hoping to find a supplier of saltwater-resistant metal
umbrella poles.  (Villa owners may find this list of exhibitors of some interest.

Westin hosts VI Culinary team prep

The first meal cooked by members of the VI Culinary Team was a success, according to people who attended a fund raiser at the Westin to help finance the competitors’ entry in the annual Taste of the Caribbean later this month in Miami.  Team chefs included Andrew Power and Rodney Rightenburg of Caneel Bay, along with three other chefs from St. Thomas and St. Croix. They were selected by a cook off. 

Ingredients used in the "test" dinner at the Westin included hot whit chocolate, handmade marshmallows, banana leaf and local pumpkin.  "We’re making 30-some different items for 40 people," team captain Ric Ade said, according to a report of the event in the Virgin Islands Daily News.

Caneel to feature Nobu

Caneel Bay is about to boost its dining notoriety by adding Nobu to the menu. Culinary artists associated with the legendary international restaurateur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa will be in residence at Caneel Bay for one weekend, May 18-20. A news release from  Rosewood, which is in business with Nobu in other locations, said his team will have the freshest seafood in the world to work with, and will utilize the Turtle Bay Estate House kitchen to turn out many of Nobu signature dishes for a $180 prix fixe menu. The menu will include Yellowtail Jalapeno, Alaskan Black Cod, and Miso soup. More info at http://www.caneelbay.com/press_popup.cfm/id/506

Westin to boost security

The Westin Resort received approval to conduct dredging operations around the hotel’s dock as well as to convert seven building to timeshares, expand the pool deck, build a guardhouse and modify the kitchen at the pool bar, according to the St. John Source.  The St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee unanimously approved the hotel’s requests. 

The dredging is necessary, the hotel said, because ferries using the dock have filled in the area. CZM required the resort to complete certification of acceptable water quality, which reportedly has already been done.  The CZM action now goes to the VI Senate and then the Governor for final authorizations.

Business is great at resorts

Both Caneel Bay Resort and Westin Resort and Villas are reporting record occupancy rates during the first quarter of the year.  Matt Balcik, at the Westin, said "we’re running at 92% occupancy," while Caneel’s chief, Rik Blyth said the resort has had occupancy in the high 80s to low 90s during the first three months of the year.  Favorable publicity in mainland media, including Conde Nast’s Travelers Magazine and The New York Times is credited for some of the strength in business.

The third quarter looks iffy, however. Caneel’s Blyth said last year’s September and October were much worse than in 2004, according to the St. John Trade winds.  "My gut feeling  is that it has to do with all the hurricanes. and the threat of them this year," he said.

Westin waits OK for timeshares

The Westin Resort has asked approval from the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee to convert a third of its hotel buildings to timeshares.  Matt Balcik, the hotel manager, said timeshares are "hot" so converting four buildings on hotel grounds makes sense, according to the St. John Source.  Balcik said the rooms  will be offered as hotel accommodations when owners are not in residence.  The Resort’s original timeshare buildings are on the left side of the south shore road, as you’re headed away from Cruz Bay.

Julien Harley, CZM chairman, said the hotel needs only a minor permit to make the move.  A spokesman for CZM said the committee would meet April 13 for what he said would be "a decision and modification meeting" on the Westin’s request.

Caneel is irreplaceable, says Blyth

On the job as managing director of Caneel Bay Resort for the past 16 months has taught Rik Blyth the place is one of a kind. "You could not recreate this resort in today’s world."  He told the St. John Sun-Times the greatest challenge in running the 175-acre, 166-room, 7-beach facility is "playing the role of caretaker to a place of such age and setting." 

That also means observing tradition.  Even though rooms at Caneel range from $400 to $900 a night, there still are no phones or television. But that doesn’t mean he’s a luddite.  Technology, in the form of GPS systems, is incorporated into treasure hunts on the property, and some rooms have powerful telescopes.  "I discovered I could see beaches on St. Thomas as clearly as though I was standing right in front of its windows."

The recent purchase of Caneel by Rosewood resorts has brought new investment in the property.  The tennis courts are being resurfaced, furniture in the terrace and bar is being replaced, and construction is underway on a new seaside bar which will feature brick oven pizza.  Plans are also to refurnish the guest rooms, but only after letting long-time guests see them and make comments.