Coral Beach’s new manager sees better times ahead
Things are looking up at Coral Beach & Tennis Club, a year after the business was taken out of receivership.
General manager Nik Bhola arrived three months ago and is overseeing the first stages of a three-year project to revive and improve the property with an eye to appealing to the next generation of club members.
At the same time, the club aims to retain the charm and intimacy that has sustained it through the past 70 years. Mr Bhola wants to return the property to “its former glory”.
“We're very much trying to bring the asset to an improved state. It has not had a cash injection in the past few years,” he said.
After listening to the membership, Coral Beach is addressing concerns and has started improving exterior areas, including patios, the longtail terrace, and resurfacing of the tennis courts. There is also a new gym. Badminton courts may be on the cards in the future.
With the arrival of winter the work has shifted indoors, with attention being placed on the dining room and a number of guests rooms. Wifi capability is also being boosted.
“We are doing a refresh and a remodelling of the interior spaces, while keeping the charm of Coral Beach,” said Mr Bhola.
“In my conversations with the members I can see that confidence has been restored. There is now a long-term plan and there is an energy about the club.”
The smooth road ahead envisaged is in contrast to the bumpy one endured by members during the past few years.
In 2007, the 26-acre resort was bought by Brickman, a New York-based real estate private equity firm, which had plans to create a Four Seasons resort. That idea was scrapped after the global economic crisis hit in 2008.
In 2012 the firm offered to sell the club to its members for $28 million, however, the membership balked at the idea. The club subsequently went into receivership in 2013 before being bought last December by Three Wall Capital, a New York-based boutique hotel investment company.
Coral Beach has eight cottages, 31 suites, and extensive grounds and recreational facilities.
Ensuring the club remains attractive in order to bring in the next generation of members is key, said Mr Bhola.
“We are delivering a programme aligned with the generation to come, which will keep the club viable,” he explained.
When asked if the idea of an exclusive members club, with its roots in the 1940s, could continue to succeed in the 21st century, Mr Bhola said the networking, camaraderie and social interaction opportunities the club fostered was something that was never going to go away.
Improvements at Coral Beach are not being confined to infrastructure projects, the club is seeking ways to add value for the membership, one of which will be the phasing out of incremental fees.
Mr Bhola was born in Kenya and attained a hospitality degree at the University of Surrey, in England.
He has extensive experience in the industry, including three years at the Fairmont Southampton between 2003 and 2006, and working at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida, the New York Plaza and The Palace in New York, the Umstead Hotel and Spa in North Carolina, and Loews Don Cesar Hotel in Florida.
“I've worked in historic hotels in the past that needed to have extra tender, loving care. This property has unique characteristics that have to be looked after,” he said.
How much is being spent on improvements has not been revealed. At the moment the focus is on the Coral Beach site, although the nearby sister property Horizons and Cottages could also be in line for improvements.
“We hope to reintroduce that as an event space, but there is nothing definite or concrete about that yet.”
Mr Bhola believes Coral Beach's strengths include its enviable South Shore beach location, being centrally placed for access to Hamilton, and its old world charm.
He paid tribute to the staff who have maintained the property and kept its services running during the “last few rocky years”.
“I have to say thank you to our membership, but also recognise our team who have provided such a high level of service during the tough times. We want to keep that family together.”
Mr Bhola also expects the club to be more engaged with the local community in the future and, following this week's announcement that Bermuda is to host the America's Cup in 2017, he added: “A lot of strategic plans may evolve.”