The Grand Caymanian is managed by the M Gibson Hotels Group, which was brought in by owners Reginald and Tina de la Pena along with partner William Nixon to develop the product and a lasting brand.
The property was originally developed along a timeshare concept and recently increased its capacity from 48 two bedroom units to 92. The idea, said de la Pena, was to enable the facility to further enter the hotel business proper. There are 1,800 timeshare owners, comprising two fifths of the total available room stock.
Gibson himself knew all about the hotel, having stayed at a timeshare apartment at the Grand Caymanian three years in succession.
“We met and discussed the project for a year; we have an investment group, development and hotel management with such franchises as Marriott, Hilton and Intercontinental.
“We are also start-up developers in making branding and amenities decisions.”
The hotel owners, he added, had already made the decision to put money into developing a boutique-type resort as well as accommodating timeshare owners. This would bring the property up to the potential, which the management team also sees in the North Sound facility.
Chief Operating Officer of M Gibson Hotels Group, Robert Webster, called the location of the hotel strategic and said it was a question of matching with branding when deciding whether to go independent or link up with another hotel banner. Each franchise or brand would come with its own brand requirements, he added.
To sell the property to potential guests it was also important to have a business driven by Internet presence and to be accessible on sites such as lodging.com as well as organic Google search. Linking with everything that attracts people to Cayman would help leverage the brand, including cuisine, diving worldwide and Cayman as a family destination.
The Grand Caymanian is the first Caribbean property in M Gibson Hotels Group’s portfolio.
De la Pena said there exists an opportunity to look into untapped markets including Europe and Asia.
“Tourism needs a fresh approach; the reality is that the United States market has been impacted significantly. Travelling internally in the states is easy, so many people are spending their vacation dollars on road trips.
“Europe is different; people come from there and stay longer, spending more. Spanish people also spend more than guests from the States.” Tina de la Pena added that Asia was also a growing market and that Chinese travellers, for example, already are prepared to go to New York or Los Angeles so it wasn’t out of the question that they could add Cayman to their itinerary. It might be possible also to hook up with other destinations for multi-destination vacation packages, which would benefit all parties.
Mr. Gibson, who has been in the hotel business at a high level for 36 years, said he is confident that if gas prices do not spike, hotels in the leisure area would still attract travellers. Those in the middle to upper income bracket spent 10 per cent of income on vacations.
“The SMERF market – social, military, educational, religious, fraternal groups – come back when they have disposable income. People want to start spending money again. I am feeling pretty confident about the marketplace.”
The Grand Caymanian is now discussing the next phase of the product improvement plan with a view to announcing branding decisions as soon as feasible.
Structural improvements under way include an expanded bar and meetings area, meeting space, an infinity pool, market pantry, fitness centre and other amenities including a water taxi service. Henry Piarrot took over as the new general manager during May 2011.