Interview

Stephanie Mack: Travel opens the eyes, and the mind

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June 8, 2020

Hermitage Bay is a privately owned, all-suite, five-star property on the west coast of Antigua that prides itself on the personal touch.

Stephanie Mack has been a part of Hermitage Bay since 2011, successfully building strong relationships with advisers and tour operators alike and ensuring that all feel a mutual commitment from Hermitage Bay.

Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Describe your property in 5 words

An all-inclusive, barefoot luxury experience.

The luxury market is changing. How are you adapting your offering?

We cater to the soul. The ambience and minimalist style discreetly encourage guests to slow down, be still, and immerse themselves in nature.

Service is attentive yet relaxed, as our team — all of whom were born and raised in the Caribbean, including our GM — welcome guests as if welcoming them into their own home.

Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Who are your guests?

When we first opened, 60% of our guests were from the UK. Now, 60% of our market is from the US, and they come from across the country.

Our guests are incredibly well-travelled, as if they know from experience to seek out the lesser-known independent hotels for a more immersive and personal experience.

Honeymooners, executives, couples celebrating a milestone anniversary, retirees and, every now and then, a solo traveller will gather in the lounge before dinner, eventually breaking off into smaller groups as they swap stories.

Most guests come to us to be alone with their significant other or for rest and relaxation, but as so many share common experiences, they often meet someone who becomes a friend.

Pool lounge, Hermitage Bay

What’s trending in your destination?

Sustainability. Antigua was the first country in the region to ban plastic bags in 2016.

About a year ago, a woman launched a company that makes biodegradable food containers. In September, the Prime Minister announced plans to make Antigua the first island nation to adopt Parley for the Oceans’ AIR System, which stands for "avoid, intercept, and redesign".

So far they haven’t announced specific initiatives; there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of education, eliminating single-use plastic and recycling, but it’s encouraging to have the government's commitment to the cause and to see the efforts already undertaken by local businesses gain support from the people.

Beachfront veranda, Hermitage Bay

What trends do you think will shake up the industry?

Vacation rentals continue to be a concern for many hotels, though this hasn’t really impacted Hermitage Bay yet.

For the last couple of years, arrivals to various islands in the region have been rising, while hotel occupancies are declining. It will be interesting to see how Airbnb steps into the ring with the other OTAs, namely Expedia and Booking.com, as they start to sell boutique hotels together with vacation rentals.

Aversion to flying in an effort to cut back on carbon emissions is an emerging trend that could seriously affect island nations.

Private dinner on the beach, Hermitage Bay

What does luxury mean to you?

When it comes to travel and hotels, the first thing that comes to mind is: “What I want, when I want it".

While that may sound entitled and demanding, what I really mean is that I want someone to care. I want to know that they will do whatever is in their power to address the concerns I have shared or the needs I have expressed while staying with them.

What excites you about the travel industry?

Travel opens the eyes and opens the mind; builds bridges and knocks down walls. It’s the greatest privilege and I am so grateful to work — and play — in this industry.

Hobie Cat Sailing, Hermitage Bay

What has working in the luxury market taught you?

That luxury is extremely personal. Each guest has a different definition and unique expectations.

Admittedly, some of our most challenging experiences have been with extremely wealthy or famous guests, and you realise very quickly that these guests have a different expectation of luxury than we deliver. They want traditional luxury, white glove service, and subservient staff who do not speak unless spoken to.

At Hermitage Bay, we offer a much more relaxed experience, but the aim is always to cater to the individual in our uniquely genuine, engaging style.

We “VIP” everyone, as every guest is equally important and valued regardless of who they are, which room category they booked or which channel they booked through.

Paddle-boarding, Hermitage Bay

How do you make sustainable choices in your work and personal life?

I travel with a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. If I forget it, I try to avoid buying anything at the airport (I can resist everything in single-use plastic except a Starbucks coffee).

I’ve cut back significantly on GrubHub and other to-go orders when travelling. I spend a bit more at the hotel restaurant, but I feel better about it.

At home, I buy as much as possible in glass containers and reuse them. I've stopped buying non-necessities that only come in plastic (like Greek yogurt, which I miss).

We are also working towards a primarily plant-based diet.

Garden suite, Hermitage Bay

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