Grace Bay COO keeps the ‘family’ together amid closure

GOSTELOW REPORT—“Sometimes on an island you can feel immune to the rest of the world, and this virus evolved so quickly,” says Nikheel Advani, chief operating officer and principal of Grace Bay Resorts, headquartered in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos.

“Four weeks ago, our three resorts were 100%, a week later it was 80%, then 40% and then airport operations were suspended. Fortunately, as chairman of Turks & Caicos Hotel Association, I have been working with the islands’ governor, Nigel Dakin, and the honorable premier, and we all fully supported a complete lockdown.”

Nikheel Advani hard at work on Turks & Caicos
Nikheel Advani hard at work on Turks & Caicos

Tourism represents 85% of the GDP of Turks & Caicos, a British Commonwealth country of islands southeast of the Bahamas: Total population is 35,000. Grace Bay Resorts, owned by Fair Enterprises LLC, consists of three main properties, with a total of 250 keys and growing, plus 140 owned residences, golf and stunning beaches. There are normally 530 on the Grace Bay Resorts payroll, of whom 75% are islanders. Now, across all properties Advani has approximately 50 on site, including security, maintenance and grounds staff.

“My main concern is welfare of my team, whom I consider the Grace Bay Resorts family. This is a very close-knit community, and everyone has embraced a 50% salary cut, to ensure we stay together. They, like us, are stuck at home. Yes, even our marvelous beaches are closed,” he explained.

He and team leaders are communicating down the hierarchical pyramid (Zoom has become the lifeline of contact). Working with the country’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Tourism, a whole range of educational suggestions are being shared – the hotels’ sales and marketing teams never had adequate time to give to Wharton’s course on competitive advantage. Now they do have time.

“Our traditional client business is 90% U.S., with the repeat factor running from 35% to 38%, and we are keeping in constant touch with these loyalists, via emails and videos.”

Transparency is really important in all communication. “We are telling the world that our airport is closed at least until 4 May, with the exception of charter planes bringing in food – our supermarkets are open, apart from Wednesdays and Sundays, so we are at least fine for food and other necessities. As soon as the airport re-opening is announced, I expect a three-month ramp-up.”

When everything does restart, business will be attracted by existing hygiene advantages: All three resorts’ rooms are condos, with full kitchens and, most important, dish- and clothes-washing machines.

Advani, who admits he is something of an extrovert, is spending his time networking as always, with hotel industry peers and with travel advisers (he was a keynote at yesterday’s “Leadership Round Table,” organized by Peter Bates of Strategic Vision, and Jack Ezon of Embark Beyond, when the main Advani message centered around “Life needs the Caribbean’). He himself, from his Providenciales home, hosts a regular Wednesday evening virtual cocktail with some top providers that is apparently such a hit it goes on for hours (he personally is sipping, all that time, aged Grace Rum tipples).

“As well as speaking to so many people all over the world I know it is essential to keep physically fit, so I swim every morning and go, in lonely state, to our gym in the evening. And I have never spent this much time with my family. My kids are only 4 and 5, but I hope they will remember my home-schooling — in such essential subjects for today as dealing with emergencies and the importance of tightening your belt.”