Rosewood Hotels & Resorts each have a certain ambience about them… An expectation that as soon as you arrive in the hotel lobby – no matter the destination – you’re in for an elevated holiday experience. And so far, we have never been disappointed.
From what we know already, the latest Caribbean resort to be added to Rosewood’s outstanding portfolio is set to be no different. Rosewood Le Guanahani on the beautiful Caribbean Island of St. Barth has recently undergone a stunning renovation after hurricane Irma in 2017. Soon after the devastating natural disaster followed the exciting news that the resort would be a part of the Rosewood family, which has helped influence the hotel’s transition. And now, four years on, it’s almost ready to open its shiny new doors under the Rosewood umbrella.
To discover more on what to expect at the latest Rosewood property and renovated St. Barth favourite, we caught up with Managing Director Martein van Wagenberg in an exclusive interview where he shared insider knowledge on the hotel’s restaurants, kids’ club and regulations in a post-pandemic world.
Martein van Wagenberg
“I started at Le Guanahani eight years ago as Managing Director of the hotel. After four years, Irma paid us a visit, and she decided that we needed a little break from the hotel. So, for the next four years I was wearing this,” Martein explains over a zoom call with marketing manager Lauren Godfrey as he swaps from his branded Panama hat to a yellow hard hat. “I went from general manager to construction manager almost overnight. Sometimes it gets very confusing so when I have meetings, I have these two hats to hand so people can understand from which capacity I speak,” Martein explains.
With Le Guanahani set to reopen after four years in October 2021, Martein and his team are busy finalising the finishing touches to make sure every guest has a memorable stay from check-in until check-out. Talking about the refurbishment, Martein assures us that the hotel “is still very recognisable,” so regular guests will feel right at home, but there are also notable enhancements.
“We’ve stayed in touch with our repeat guests, and they’re delighted that they can come back,” he says. “With Rosewood, the brand has made enhancements to smaller things but at the end of day it is very much what it used to be as a hotel. Le Guanahani is very family-orientated in terms of the layout which we have kept the same, but we have created different experiences for the guests and some small surprises along the way.”
Those small surprises include a fantastic kids’ club with a programme of stimulating activities that will both educate and entertain little ones. “We’re in the middle of a nature reserve so we are working with the organisation that looks after it and who come on a regular basis to check on the turtles, salamanders and plants, to incorporate some activities within the children’s programme,” Martein explains. “The local artist who we worked with to create tiles for the beach is also designing a programme with us where the kids can paint their own tiles which we will glaze and bake to provide them with a little keepsake,” he continues.
“We also plan to work with language. Most of the child guests who stay speak English so we’ll work on their French as well as offering some culinary activities like making cookies. All the fun stuff that kids like to do.”
Ocean Bay Pool Room
Located on the small but mighty island of St. Barth, Le Guanahani’s most iconic USP has always been its amount of space, 17 hectares to be precise, and this has not been changed with the refurb. And within this glorious corner of the island lies only 66 colourful cotttages. “I think our biggest asset is our space. All the hotels in St. Barth are really close together. However, we have our individual bungalows, and they have a decent amount of space between them. Plus, we have lush gardens so another thing that we can offer to our guests is beautiful privacy,” Martein states.
Further to this, the hotel is well located to discover all that the island has to offer. But, there’s so much to do within the resort that you may never want to leave. Complete with two stunning beaches - Lagoon and Marechal - that are lined with comfortable loungers, Rosewood Le Guanahani also has two swimming pools, tennis courts, water sport opportunities as well as the brand’s signature restorative spa Sense, A Rosewood Spa. And for the more active, there are a collection of natural hikes ranging from one to two hours in length.
And if you’re not clued up on St. Barth, the island is located within the Caribbean Sea, a 50-minute flight from Antigua or 15-minute domestic flight from St. Maarten (or alternatively a 40-minute boat journey). Martein describes it as if a piece of the South of France broke off and floated over the Atlantic and settled here… and that’s a pretty accurate description. A derelict rock and with a history speckled with pirates and swashbuckling tales, it wasn’t until the 70s and 80s when rich American families such as the Rockefellers and icon Brigitte Bardot began to visit that tourism started picking up. Restauranteurs and hoteliers from St. Tropez would divide their time in half, spending the six-month summer season on the French Riviera before travelling to the Caribbean for the other six months of the year. But now, it’s a tourism hotspot lined with five-star resorts and with an army of celebrity fans including Sir Paul McCartney, Lionel Richie, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Beyoncé Knowles.
So, what was it like reconstructing a hotel after a major natural disaster all the while joining a leading worldwide luxury hotel management company? “I know so much more about sewage plans and electricity than I ever wanted to know,” Martein confesses. “But it was important to me. I played a crucial role because I was the one who was overlooking the entire process and always keeping the guest experience in mind. All the different parties – and there were a lot – they all do their thing in terms of their specific areas, so someone had to look at it overall to make sure that every aspect joined and flowed. At times it was a frustrating job, but at the same time it was very rewarding.”
And keeping the guests at the centre of the entire project wasn’t Martein’s only focus. He also shared his undeniable loyalty and respect for the hotel’s staff. When the hotel team were deciding which management company would be the best fit for Le Guanahani, this was one of his deciding factors.
Ocean Pool Suite
“We spoke to a number of management companies and beyond the fact that I had worked with Rosewood for nine years prior to my position at Le Guanahani, there were also two key points within the brand’s philosophy that are very important to me.
“One is Rosewood’s sense of place. It means that we can keep our own identity. We have a wonderful identity already, but with Rosewood it enables us to enhance it and make it even better.
“The other thing that has always been extremely important for me is vision and how we deal with the employees. For me it’s extremely important – happy staff, happy client. It has always been important to create opportunities for our staff and that we give employees all the tools they require to be successful. If we can give them the skills and the confidence to execute everything then automatically that rubs off onto the guests and allows employee to have real relationship with them. It’s not just a job to do. Its genuine care and its coming from the heart. We allow freedom for the employees to do little surprises and unexpected things towards the guests so that they feel more empowered which goes towards their motivation and in turn creates a better service for everyone.
“Plus, now under Rosewood we have developed different software programmes and systems to ensure we can provide the appropriate training to develop employees. By doing the right thing by our employees, we ensure they do the right thing by our guests.”
These small surprises Martein referred to include romantic treats like placing rose petals on the bed, and little amenities to mark a celebration, which isn’t limited to just birthdays and anniversaries. “If we realise that something has happened that day that they are celebrating, we want to acknowledge it,” Martein says.
Official Rendering of Beach House
But what about dining? One of the most popular reasons for choosing and returning to a resort is its culinary offering. We asked Martein what Rosewood Le Guanahani’s restaurant scene has to offer and were intrigued by his response. “We are still working on our menu and I will have the first proposal by the end of the week,” Martein declares. “We have taken inspiration for the menu and the décor from the restaurant’s name – Beach House St. Barth – where we have different rooms for different experiences so we can offer different ambiences. You won’t be having breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same area,” he says.
Inspired by a local island woman and her story, Martein went on to describe how she married well and travelled Europe. After her divorce and when her children were getting older, she travelled some more, particularly around the Mediterranean, before returning to St. Barth to share her knowledge of the world and settle back into island life. “We’ve taken inspiration from her story and created her house with physical elements found in the décor and giving the menu a Mediterranean concept. There are influences from South of France, Italy, Greece and then also Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel. We’re working with a number of mezes and the concept of sharing that fits with our family focus. At the same time, the food is light.” Sounds delicious!
Suite Living Room
With Martein van Wagenberg at the helm, Rosewood Le Guanahani is almost guaranteed to be a huge success. Throughout his extensive career, Martein has been an integral cog at many luxury hotels around the world, working his way from accounting through to general manager. But his career path could have been entirely different. “I first went to university to study tropical plant diseases,” Martein tells us. “I spent a lot of time in the lab looking through a microscope at cells, doing chemistry and physics but during the weekends I wanted to make some extra money so I started working in a hotel. After a couple of months, I realised that this was much more fun than sitting in a lab.”
After changing his course and enrolling in hotel and business administration, his career in the hospitality sector started to take shape. As the end of university was in sight, and with a management training programme in Brussels lined up, Martein travelled from Holland to the South of France. “I wanted to spend some time in the South of France to improve my French so I went to the university there in the summer before my management contract was about to start. There was a hotel called Hyatt Regency in Nice and I just thought it would be fun to work there rather than go to Brussels. So I walked into the hotel and said ‘I want to work here’. They said ‘when can you start?’ and I replied ‘now.’ They said ‘you’ve got the job’.”
Ocean Pool Suite
Ok, it wasn’t quite like that, but the story wasn’t far off. Martein began in accounting and was there for two years where he then moved to London to work in Grosvenor House. He soon took a promotion at another London hotel – Hyde Park Hotel (which is now the Mandarin Oriental) – where he moved up the ranks for a further four years before landing the role of ‘number two’. “I was then asked to open a hotel in Amsterdam which I did, but in the meantime I also picked up diving and had visited the Caribbean a few times. I thought it would be great to dive and work in the same place so then I got a job at Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands,” he explains. Martein’s love affair with Rosewood and the Caribbean then began, and unfortunately so did his knowledge of dealing with natural disasters.
“Unfortunately, we had two hurricanes, so the hotel closed down. But I was very lucky to meet the owner of a little hotel called Grace Bay Club in Turks and Caicos a few days later. I worked there for five years until Rosewood asked me to return to Little Dix as MD.” He worked there for a further seven years before transferring to Rosewood Las Ventanas in Cabo, Mexico where he took up the position of MD for two years. His next move was to Le Guanahani in St. Barth which brings us back to present day. So, to say that luxury hotel experience is on Martein’s side would be a disservice.
Official Rendering of Lobby
Rosewood Le Guanahani is set to open in October 2021 with additional health and safety restrictions in place. “We already have the space and privacy so that makes the Rosewood Le Guanahani ideal for today’s climate,” Martein says. “We have reviewed our principles. There will be some physical barriers between reception, but we are hoping things soon evolve with the vaccination programmes. We’re already talking about the handshake and discussing other ways to greet guests and have been trained in Rosewood’s health and safety protocols. As they change and evolve, we will follow accordingly” Martein assures us.
So, if you’re looking for a safe long-haul holiday, Rosewood Le Guanahani in St. Barth should certainly be top of your list. Opening October 2021, be among the very first to discover the brand new resort by calling our personal travel managers today on 0203 816 0985 or click here to submit an online enquiry.
Easily reachable by short flight from Antigua or via private plane from BVI, it’s also a great opportunity to enjoy a Caribbean multi-centre holiday. You could visit Martein’s old stomping ground Rosewood Little Dix on British Virgin Islands, Rosewood Baha Mar in The Bahamas and in a few years’ time, there will also be a brand-new Rosewood resort in Antigua. Winged Boots’ personal travel managers are experts at crafting bespoke itineraries, navigating the latest entry requirements and planning a trip of a lifetime.
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