Thinking of traveling to the Caribbean? Well, look no further than St. Lucia -- known for its scrumptious food, Nobel laureates and volcanic sulfur baths. It's also the place where 'The Bachelor' proposed over a red horizon.
Not only does St. Lucia boast of all these things and the majestic Piton mountains, but the island nation also houses a hotel chain that is black owned and wants to cater to African Americans.
Joyce Destang, of the Bay Gardens properties, owns three thriving hotels in St. Lucia -- Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa, Bay Gardens Hotel and Bay Gardens Inn. She and her two general managers, Berthia Parle and Waltrude Patrick, prove that women can run the show in a traditionally male- and foreign-run business.
"In St. Lucia, I think women are really doing a good job," says Destang. "I don't want the men to think that we want to take over; it's not that. I just feel that the women are more reliable. If they tell me they are going to get something done, trust me, they will."
In a classic Caribbean tale, Destang went from civil servant to successful entrepreneur. At the age of 39, Destang, who taught secondary school for 15 years, wanted to take a year sabbatical (without pay) but was informed by the school that it could not promise to keep her position open. Destang decided to take an early retirement and figure it out.
"It was during this time that I started to look around," she explains. "I had no plans. During my second year without pay, I decided that I had better find something to make up for retirement. And I went into the fabric business. During that time, I also went into constructing houses and renting them out. And within a year or two, I had quite a few properties I had bought and sold."
Destang then expanded into the hotel business, but not without some resistance.
"My brother [a former hotelier] didn't want me to go into the hotel business because of the stressful nature of the industry," Destang recalls. "Before my mother died, she also discouraged me. But by then, I had already made up my mind. And I have had no regrets."
Tourism is one of St. Lucia's most lucrative industries, making up half of its gross domestic product. Although no official statistics exist, most of the resorts on the island are foreign owned. Parle, general manager of the Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa, says that the executive team there decided to target a niche market when they opened up the properties.
"Traditionally, hotels did not treat black people very well, which I heard from travel agents, as well as other people in the Caribbean," notes Parle, who happens to be one of Destang's former students. "We decided to target that niche. We started serving the foods and drinks [that African Americans and Caribbean people liked], and we killed them with love and kindness. We made them feel like it was home they were coming to."
"In no time, we built up nearly 80 percent of our business by targeting that niche," Parle continues. "So Bay Gardens built up this phenomenal reputation across the Caribbean as the place to be, but also we showed other islands what it is to run a small, locally owned hotel that provides all the amenities of a major hotel."
The newest of the three properties, Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa, boasts 72 spacious suites and first-class amenities, including a pool, water sports and the brand-new La Mer Spa. It is located in Rodney Bay, a sleepy harbor town with a lively strip of land that offers colorful nightlife with dance parties and bars where you'll hear everything from classic R&B to rousing karaoke.
The entire Destang family lives in the Rodney Bay area, and they meet weekly to pray together. Destang says it is her strong faith in God that keeps her from being weighted down by the demands of business and life.
Being a woman on a mission doesn't hurt either.
Jet Blue flies directly to St. Lucia a few times per week. For information on flights, go to http://www.jetblue.com.
To book a suite at the Bay Garden Resorts, click here http://www.baygardensbeachresort.com/.
For the Inn, go to Bay Gardens Hotel & Inn http://www.baygardensinn.com/ or http://www.baygardenshotel.com/.