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Upping the Ante on The Pool Experience

Having a pool is no longer enough. Now it’s generating income from high class cabanas. Here’s how to do it.

Monday, March 24, 2014
Steve Pike
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Time was when the phrase “Meet me poolside,’’ meant grabbing a beach towel and flopping down in some kind of lounge chair and hoping the kids didn’t make too much noise.

Pools are now staples of most every resort and hotel in North America and beyond, meaning it’s becoming more difficult to simply use a pool – even if it’s the size of the Biltmore hotel’s pool legendary 600,000-gallon pool in Cora Gables, Fla. – as a primary amenity.

So with that in mind, many hotels and resorts are creating luxury accommodations and services on their pool decks to drive business, create more memorable guest experiences and separate themselves from the competition.

One of the more popular ways to accomplish each of the three are poolside cabanas. We’re not talking the Lawrence of Arabia style canvas tents with a TV and a couple of chairs – these are full blown guest rooms, many of which come with everything from butler service to private pools and fire pits.

Each of these cabanas – sometimes called bungalow and villas – are a private retreat for the couple who want some along time and for parents who want to spend the day near the water without having to take the kids back up to the guest room for naps.

“Our guests come here for a big reason and that’s to go poolside,’’ said Carmen Carbone, director of recreation at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. “There are exceptions, of course, but we know internally that a bungalow is one of those signature experiences that can’t be duplicated.’’

The legendary beachfront resort has 25 beach bungalows – each 300 to 400 square feet- featuring tropical teak wood furnishings with a beautifully paneled room, day sofas, refrigerators (stocked in advance upon request), wet bar, flat screen TV, full bathrooms and showers and concierges.

Guests in the bungalows also have access to the resorts five pools as well as its Beach Club restaurant and Ocean Grill.

“I don’t know how many (resorts) have the ability to achieve the financial success that we have given the square footage and service,’’ Carbone said. “They play a key role in our hotel business and to our club members.

“In the summer, we charge more than our room rates. People are willing to pay it because of the convenience of not having go back to the room. You can make dinner reservations, have lunch and get a spa treatment. It’s the ultimate convenience.’’

A bit farther south, the St. Regis Bal Harbour resort in Miami offers nine 600-square-foot air-conditioned cabanas, each with marble floors and walls, antiqued mirrors, couch, wet bar, bath and shower, flat screen TV, mini-fridge. Each cabana also has a patio with a daybed, umbrellas, dining table and privacy hedges. The amenities include fresh fruit, Fiji water, champagne, sunscreen terry robes and slippers and full butler service.

In Arizona, the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson recently added five cabanas, each with a including a television, ceiling fan, refrigerator and two lounge chairs with an additional two lounge chairs outside of the cabana for direct sun exposure. Guests receive a gift bag consisting of sunscreen and Chapstick, along with six bottled waters and a fresh fruit platter.

The Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach (Fla.) has 20 climate-controlled cabanas that encircle its pools on three sides.

“The cabanas are built into the structure of the hotel versus being tent-like, so they’re actually part of the resort,’’ said Nancy Longstreth, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.

Each cabana – available to day guests as well as resort guests - features a 42-inch TV, private pool deck, bathroom, spa service, wet bar and can be cordoned off by draperies.

“It’s just kind of just kind of a little retreat where you can slip away and enjoy the resort,’’ Longstreth said. “The day guests become full guests of the resort, although our resort guests play a lower price. Some of them even rent by the week. A bride or her family will rent the cabana for three or four days during the wedding to use as a hospitality room.’’

The posh Capella Padregal resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, has taken the concept a bit farther. The 96-room resort features six beachfront villas, some with as many as three bedrooms. Each villas has its own private section of beach, fire pit and Blue Tooth speakers. Each villa also comes with its own beach waiter. The two- and three-bedrooms villas each has its own butler.

“You never have to leave your villa if you don’t want to,’’ said General Manager John Volponi. “In fact, there are some we hardly see until they check out.’’

At the Aruba Marriott Resort, guests have access to cabanas through its H2Oasis adults only pool.

“They’re able to relax in a kids-free zone - a more tranquil environment compared to the main pool, which has a more vibrant atmosphere,’’ said Keirsin Tjon-pian-gi, the resort’s eCommerce manager. “Most of our guests are aware beforehand that that we have two pools. They receive and they beforehand and receive an information card regarding the pool cabana procedures upon arrival.

“We have guests rent for a day or for multiple days. And we recently started to offer a $50 food credit as a part of the cabana fee.’’

And it’s all part of the new “meet me poolside’’ experience.

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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