A Bermudian and graduate of the highly acclaimed Cornell Hotel School, David Dodwell has more than four decades of experience in hospitality and is the owner of The Reefs in Bermuda and Nisbet Plantation on Nevis.
Both resorts have been highly acclaimed in consumer travel media over the years but nothing could have foretold what a remarkable experience Mr. Dodwell and his two resorts would have over the past twelve months. Here’s a brief overview:
- In 2011 Mr. Dodwell was named the Caribbean Hotelier of the Year, the highest honor bestowed upon a hotelier by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.
- Nisbet Plantation, his intimate 36-room property in Nevis was singled out as the #1 resort in all the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda by both of the most influential consumer travel magazines – Travel+Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.
- Then in August 2012, Travel+Leisure Magazine, named The Reefs the #1 resort in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda with Nisbet filling in at the #2 spot.
Hotelier of the Year and both resorts vying for the top spot in coveted hotel awards – Hospitality Marketing Blog (HMB) wanted to know how he did it.
M. Pratt: The last couple of years have been difficult for most hotels yet you have managed to somehow flourish. What do you believe has contributed most to your recent success?
D. Dodwell: That’s a tough question to answer since there are so many things that need to come together to have a successful hotel operation. However, I guess if there is one overarching item or belief that has helped both The Reefs and Nisbet Plantation succeed is our collective passion for providing our guests with exceptional service.
If you look closely at the awards and how they are calculated there are a number of factors considered when developing the rankings including such things as location, activities, food and service. Neither resort ranks high on every factor, but both really excel in service delivery which helps push their overall scores to the top.
M. Pratt: You and your staff must be very proud to be recognized and rated so highly by such prestigious magazines.
D. Dodwell: That’s true, but I would like to say one thing about awards. In our business plans we never set winning awards as an objective. Our number one goal is to deliver the highest level of customer satisfaction and value for money by providing an excellent vacation experience at a fair price. It amazes me and the guests how our staff remembers everyone’s name.
The management and staff of both resorts are devoted to our customers and that pays higher dividends to us than any of these awards. It all pays off in building a very loyal base of guests which leads to higher repeat visits and more word of mouth advertising. Awards come and go, but a loyal guest should be with you forever.
M. Pratt: How is it both properties have managed to build a reputation for such high service delivery?
D. Dodwell: As every hotelier will tell you, delivering consistently high levels of customer service is tough. An otherwise perfect vacation can fall short for a guest with just one poor encounter at the front desk or while dining.
Having great personnel is critical to delivering exceptional service and that begins by making sure the right people are hired in every position – no compromises here. It’s much easier to provide the hospitality skills a pleasant person needs than to try and change someone’s personality.
I’m also a big believer in training and it is ongoing at both resorts. There is always something new to learn and having a little refresher now and again can make a big difference to guests.
Sharing success stories is also important and builds a sense of accomplishment and pride with staff. Department heads share customer satisfaction surveys so everyone knows how well they are performing. We also share TripAdvisor reviews. Staff gets a kick out of having their names mentioned on the Internet by guests.
I would like to add something about TripAdvisor. Nisbet Plantation is a small resort and was usually overlooked in magazine awards. That changed several years ago when TripAdvisor rated Nisbet as the #1 resort in all the Caribbean and Latin America in it’s Travelers’ Choice Awards. Having a well thought out TripAdvisor strategy is important.
M. Pratt: Both resorts are known to have one of, if not the highest occupancy on their respective island and I’m sure winning awards helps. Is there anything special you do to market your properties?
D. Dodwell: There are a number of things we do that are unique and I believe help The Reefs and Nisbet standout from competition.
First and foremost we have a great deal of respect for travel agents and even offer them commissions for life. We are happy when an agent entrusts one of their clients with us. And when they do we will pay that agent a 15% commission every time their client books a vacation – even if the guests book directly with the resort in the future.
We also pay promptly and avoid using Flash Sale Sites which I know agents dislike.
For over a decade we have used an integrated customer relationship marketing approach to promote both resorts. We have developed an extensive marketing database of customers, prospects and travel agents and use it to deliver personalized, relevant and targeted messages. Our goal has always been to make sure the friendly personalized service we provide at the resorts gets delivered in all our communications.
What’s interesting is we have found that our messages don’t always have to focus on selling and people in our database appreciate that. A nice email newsletter with information about the resort or on-island events is a great way to build relationships. We know those emails sells because we track and measure the results of all our marketing efforts. Not many small resorts like The Reefs or Nisbet are so results oriented and focused on measurement, but we know for a fact it pays.
M. Pratt: I have to imagine that someone with your drive is always working on something. What’s on the horizon?
D. Dodwell: Right now I’m involved with a group that’s working on redeveloping the 9 Beaches Resort here in Bermuda. The property sits on 18 beautiful beachfront acres which previously served as the Canadian Naval Base. We have obtained a Special Development Order on a new Master Plan that will include hotel rooms, condominiums and the iconic over-the-water cabanas from the resort.
The land is owned by the Bermuda government and we now have a 240 year lease on favorable terms. We now have some of the capital in place. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we will have everything in order so we will be set to go. It’s an exciting project and I’m looking forward to introducing a new product to Bermuda’s tourism inventory.
M. Pratt: You are a busy man. Thank you for your time, congratulations on all your accomplishments and we wish you continued success.
About David Dodwell: In addition to being the owner of both The Reefs in Bermuda and Nisbet Plantation on Nevis, Mr. Dodwell is committed to giving back to the community. Mr. Dodwell served in Bermuda’s Parliament as a member of the United Bermuda Party for Southampton West for more than 14 years. During that time, he held several positions including Bermuda’s Minister of Tourism. Currently he is a member of the Resort Committee of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. His is also on the Board of Tourism, Bermuda.
Mr. Dodwell lives in Bermuda and oversees both of his award-winning resorts from offices at The Reefs.