Willowbank rebrands as family resort
Willowbank Resort and Conference Centre has reopened as an open-to-all budget-friendly family resort.
Renovations have been made, including the installation of a new swimming pool. A soft opening is under way this month with the resort expected to be fully up and running by next month.
Willowbank closed as a fully functioning hotel in 2011 after being hit by the economic downturn, which led to unsustainably low occupancy rates. Some low-level use continued, but the impetus to fully reactivate the resort is partly the result of positive feedback from guests who stayed during last year’s America’s Cup, when the property was partially reopened.
In the months that followed, Willowbank continued to provide accommodation for families, sport teams, wellness conferences, weddings and other celebratory events. At the end of the year, taking into consideration the comments of guests together with some changes in the local tourism market, Willowbank’s management decided to redefine the property as an affordable family-friendly resort.
Renovations have been made to the six-acre waterfront property on Somerset Road, Sandys. There are 50 guest rooms, lounges, conference centre, recreation grounds, a new pool, and access to two beaches.
In a statement, the Willowbank management said the “budget-friendly” price point is intentional so that families are given the opportunity to have “an affordable, memorable and unforgettable Bermuda experience all together”.
For the past seven years the resort has been used only occasionally. The property has been maintained by a small team of staff, however damage from hurricanes and years of underuse meant major renovations were needed to bring it back into full use.
During the America’s Cup, a mixture of officials, media and families stayed at the partially reopened property. Tricia Shastri, general manager, told The Royal Gazette that many of them commented on how it felt like “a home from home” and did not want to leave.
“It was a testing ground,” she said. “We got to meet a lot of families who also brought their children. The main America’s Cup commentator stayed here and he loved the place. He was in a room that had sea views all around.”
Mrs Shastri said a difference between Willowbank and many other resorts is the ease with which guests and staff at the resort are able to interact.
Guests and their family can relax in cottages that are purpose-built and divided into guest rooms. All guests have access to the beaches, swimming pool, tennis courts, recreational areas and water sports.
Ms Shastri said: “Willowbank has always catered well to families, but herein there will be even more focus on creating an environment that both adults and children can enjoy.
“One example of this is with our gym facilities. While adults are exercising or enjoying some personal time, their children can enjoy one of two designated activity rooms that are in the same building and close by. The children’s activities will include colouring, playdough, puzzles, books and more.”
In its first year of operation, the rebranded Willowbank Resort will operate as “a limited, but value-added service”, and room rates include a buffet-style continental breakfast, 24-hour access to a coffee, tea, and water beverage bar, and microwave station in the main building.
The restaurant is not opened for dinners, but guests staying at Willowbank Resort can participate in a Dine Around programme. A complimentary shuttle service is provided to the Bella Vista Restaurant at Port Royal Golf Course and to the restaurants at Cambridge Beaches. There is also the Willowbank Pantry offering light menu options, such as salads, wraps and snacks, together with other useful vacation items.
An arrangement with Oleander Cycles means guests can rent scooters at the resort.
Mrs Shastri said: “In addition to improving the tennis and basketball courts, guests will have access to on-property activities such as snorkelling, kayaking and swimming at either of Willowbank’s two private beaches.
Fantasia Diving & Watersports operate some of its tours from Willowbank Resort, including mountain bike tours on the Railway Trail.
Willowbank Resort will be operated by an all-Bermudian staff led by an executive team of four managers.
“The team are all well experienced and ready to serve with excellence,” Mrs Shastri said.
The resort is now welcoming its first guests since the rebranding. The budget-friendly pricing is in the range of $230 to $340 per room per night depending on time of year, with some additional service fees. Mrs Shastri said it was above the general pricing for Airbnb on the island, but pointed out that Willowbank provides additional benefits, including beaches, gym, safe garden areas where children can play and children’s activity rooms.
Jamahl Simmons, Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, said: “We are pleased to support the Willowbank Foundation and the board of trustees at the reopening of this beautiful property. The launch of new Willowbank Resort provides a perfect option for visitors looking for guest properties that accommodate children, parents and extended family vacations.
“The Government is committed to making Bermuda an even more business and investor-friendly jurisdiction than ever before, as we recognise that their success equals jobs for Bermudians. We are encouraged by the confidence that they have placed in Bermuda, and we are delighted to welcome this family-friendly resort to the West End.”
• For more information on Willowbank Resort, call 234-1616 or visit www.willowbankresort.com
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