The Intimate Hotels of Barbados group is celebrating 23 years of providing service excellence in the hospitality industry. This membership association of 40 hotels started in 2000 under the trading name Small Hotels of Barbados Inc. and represents the best of the island’s small hotels, apartments, guest houses and villas.
To celebrate their 23rd anniversary, Intimate Hotels of Barbados is taking you behind the scenes to learn some of its history and meet some members of the group; the first of which is Yellow Bird Hotel.
If you are familiar with St. Lawrence Gap, you must have seen the large yellow building opposite the bay, bearing the name Yellow Bird Hotel. But what is the story of Yellow Bird? How did this one-star hotel become the award-winning three-star property that it is today?
Former General Manager of Yellow Bird Hotel, Geeta Chatrani said she started in the hospitality industry from 1987 to 1990 when she worked with her father Kishin Kirpalani at Sunhaven Beach Hotel, located on Accra Beach. In 1990 she got married and soon started a family. In 1996 she decided it was time to go back out to work and felt that working with her father would give her the flexibility to be home with her children should the need arise.
In the meantime, her father had acquired Riviera Beach Hotel and eight condominium units at Yellow Bird.
“I asked my father how he ended up with only eight units in the 20-room condo hotel and he told me the story of an Englishman who frequented the beach bar at Sunhaven Hotel. They would chat regularly and soon became friends. One day the Englishman told him he had the opportunity to buy eight condo units at Yellow Bird but needed a local guarantor. He asked my dad if he would co-sign the loan for him which my dad did. A couple years later the Englishman returned home owing the bank. He abandoned the property and the loan and my dad had to take over the mortgage” she said.
Mr. Kirpalani sought to manage the eight units but with Sunhaven and Riviera Hotel he had his hands full. Also the other unit owners were from different parts of the world and there was conflict amongst them. Geeta had a vision for the hotel, and after speaking to her husband Sunil Chatrani they asked her father to allow them to take over his units.
“We started with eight rooms on January 1st, 1997. There were no phones or televisions in these rooms and when I asked my Dad why he said that the guests didn’t know anyone on the island so who were they going to call? He added that visitors didn’t come to Barbados to watch TV, they came to go to the beaches.” The first thing that Geeta did to upgrade the rooms was to replace the brown carpets with ceramic tiles. She brought in curtain fabric and matching quilts from Miami and of course she added telephones and televisions.
In early March of that year, Geeta received a request from a developer who offered to build a website for Yellow Bird. The cost was $3000 BDS annually.
“I listened to what she had to say and told her that we could not afford it. I went home that night and told my husband and he said to call her back and get the website. He said we would find a way to pay for it. The website was built in March 1997. One of our first reservations via the new website was a two week booking for our Penthouse Suite and I can still remember this; the total cost of that booking was $2667 BDS – the cost of my website was almost covered for the entire year from that one booking. From that day onwards we made sure to stay ahead of anything to do with technology,” she said.
Adding that “In the late 1990’s we had eight rooms and soon with our new website, the bookings were surpassing our room availability. I told my husband we needed more rooms as we were turning away business and that was when we decided to purchase South Gap Hotel in October 2004. At that same time, the piece of land adjacent to Yellow Bird became available and we purchased it and built two two-bedroom units. As the years went by, we purchased Yellow Bird’s condo units as they came on the market and just bought the last three units in 2022. It took us 25 years but we finally own the entire property. This is how our story began and we now have gone from 8 to 56 rooms between the two hotels,” she said.
Chatrani said one of the reasons that her hotels are so successful is because of the first lesson she learnt from her dad which was ‘five-star service does not cost a cent more’. At that time both hotels were one-to-two-star properties and we made sure to offer five-star service to our guests’.
“My father drilled it into me that good service was what would keep the guests coming back. In those days we did not have social media, we could not afford to advertise in magazines but the one way that we could ensure we had good occupancy was to give the best experience to our guests so that they would not only come back, but also tell their families and friends. It was by word of mouth that we slowly built our business and became what we are today,” she said.
Yellow Bird Hotel, who is an active member of Intimate Hotels of Barbados, has won countless awards, such as the Travelers Choice Award on TripAdvisor in 2021 and 2022, British Airways Customer Service Award in 2019, the BHTA Hotel of the Year (Apartment Category) & Social Responsibility in 2018.
Major renovations were done in the summer of 2015 which took Yellow Bird to the #1 hotel in St. Lawrence Gap by Traveler Ranking. We had a reopening party and invited many dignitaries, fellow hoteliers and industry members to view the newly renovated Yellow Bird. In 2017, to commemorate our 20th anniversary, we wanted to give back in some way. We met with the Principal of St. Lawrence Composite School and asked how we could assist. She said the classrooms were badly in need of painting and so we bought paint, brushes and rollers and my staff and I painted the entire weekend along with a few teachers and parents.
Reflecting on the journey from 1997 to being a multi-award winning hotel, Chatrani said none of this could have been possible without the assistance of her members of staff.
“If you have happy staff, you will have happy guests because anyone who is unhappy in their work environment will not give the kind of experience that we want them to give. Secondly, we have a lot of repeat guests who return year after year. When they see the same faces they feel as though they are coming home and many of them regard our hotels as their second home. It is very important to make sure that your staff are happy to keep your guests happy. Looking back at receiving our first award, I did feel a sense of accomplishment but I realized that I am just one person in a team that does a job. Unless you are on property 24 hours a day then you are dependent on your staff to take care of your guests. So when I received our first award all I could think about was everyone who helped us to get to where we were at that time; the members of staff, our families, our friends, my dad and everyone who supported us,” she said.
Chatrani had some words of advice for any person who is interested in pursuing a career in hospitality.
“As a Bajan you cannot get away from the tourism industry; if you are not involved some member of your family is, your friend is or someone you know is. My advice to you is there is no part of this industry that is too difficult as long as you have a passion. To do well you should have a love for your island and a passion for meeting new people. Whether you feel comfortable being a room attendant, front desk clerk or you want to work in food and beverage all you need to know is to put your heart and soul into it and make sure that people who stay in your hotels have the best experience possible so that they not only want to come back, they are already planning their next trip to Barbados before they leave,” she said. (Write Right PR Services)