The Pink Pearl of Barbados
You can see it from the plane when you fly into the Grantley Adams International airport in Barbados. A soft shade of pink, it’s unmistakable. Since the 1950s, the Southern Palms Beach Club & Resort Hotel has been a long-standing staple on the island and a home away from home for many of its guests who have been vacationing here for decades.
— By Joanna Fox
Located right in the center of the vibrant St. Lawrence Gap and in a beautiful spot right on Dover Beach, the Southern Palms is not only a special place, but it’s also staffed by an incredible team of people. Guests are more than just visitors passing through at the Southern Palms, they’re treated like family and friends. Led by the very wonderful Ms. Britta Pollard who is the managing director, the atmosphere is intimate and personal, something that she feels distinguishes the Southern Palms from other hotels and resorts on the island, or any other Caribbean island, for that matter.
“The hotel has been here so many years”, Pollard explains, “it has so much history and so many stories about people that have been coming here for years. There is staff that has worked here for half a lifetime. We have had maids that have been here for 40 years. We’re a family”.
Pollard, who’s been with the hotel for 30 years, knows the Southern Palms inside and out. Spend a little time with her and you’ll see she even knows her guests by their names. A native of Denmark, Pollard moved to Barbados in 1980 and started working for the hotel five years later.
“In 1985, I started working here with guest relations, activities, weddings, marketing, and then I became the manager in 1998. During my time as a manager I was given the freedom to make changes, which was a lot of fun. A lot of things happened in terms of the development of the island, especially the access to new products. It changed so much over those years and we were really able to upgrade a lot of things from yesteryear to the current times”.
Even though the hotel has always remained its signature shade of pink, a lot of other things have certainly changed on the island since Pollard first arrived on the island.
“Barbados has changed, the traveller has changed, the expectations have changed, so all of those changes plays into what we are at the Southern Palms, and what we used to be and where we are now. In those days the traveller was different and their expectations were different than what they are today. Barbados has become much more obtainable for so many people.”
There’s also been a shift in where the island’s tourists are coming from. Pollard remembers that in the early days of her career at the Southern Palms, most of the visitors were Canadian but that’s changed over recent years. “Canadians started going to all the Spanish speaking destinations like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba” says Pollard, “and I think that has played in to our Canadian market for sure. Barbados has also become more and more accessible from Europe. Our volume is now mainly from the United Kingdom.”
The big Barbados boom really started happening in the late 1980s when the lines between the “on” season and the “off” season started to blur and travellers began to come to Barbados all year round, not just during the northern hemisphere’s winter months.
“In the late 80s people started coming all year round and there was a lot more happening on the island. There was affluence and generally people started travelling more. You could see that the standard of living was changing and people were getting much more exposed to the outside world. Barbados got much more trendy without loosing its Caribbean flair. I always felt that Barbados, to a large extent, has been able to develop but maintain the Caribbean feeling”.
This idea of thoughtful development is exactly Pollard’s philosophy with the Southern Palms. The hotel stands out because of small touches that make its guests feel at home, yet at the same time, the hotel feels modern and up-to-date with what people would want from a vacation experience.
Every Monday evening, no matter how many guests are staying in the hotel or what time of year it is, Pollard hosts a rum punch party on the picturesque hotel grounds. Overlooking the beach, this casual get-together gives the opportunity for not only Pollard to chat with guests, but for guests to get to know each other and have a good time. There is also live entertainment at the hotel bar three nights a week, which is always a good time filled with drinks, music and dancing. Pollard prides herself on creating this kind of environment, and these are the little things that keep her guests coming back year after year, generation after generation.
The Southern Palms has it’s own restaurant and bar and some of their rooms have kitchenettes with small, fully functional kitchens, but this is by no means an all-inclusive hotel, nor does it strive to be. There’s too much of wonderful Barbados to discover to be confined to one place and stay behind the hotel’s pink walls.
“That is where the difference is, because when you look at those Spanish speaking destinations, they have hotels with 1500 rooms and 10 restaurants; they’re massive. Sometimes there is crime and poverty outside of the walls of the property, so the more inclusive the hotel is, the better for you”, says Pollard. “Here in Barbados, you can actually experience the culture and the infrastructure of the island and interact with the people. There are things that are happening at a local level that are trendy, there’s loads of really nice, little cozy restaurants, all you have to do is walk out that door”.
From the staff at the hotel to the great team of guys behind the hotel’s watersports program on the beach (just ask for Sandy), the lifeguards who patrol the shores, the fishermen at the market, and all the men and women you happen to run into just walking down the street, the Bajan people are exceptionally nice, helpful and welcoming. If you smile and say hello, they will certainly smile and greet you back. It’s the people all over this island that really help make the experience of Barbados all the more incredible.
“People are very genuine here, very warm and if you show them that you are open to their greeting, they’re so there”, Pollard agrees. “But if you come with a wall, they step right back. Some people don’t understand that. People here are genuinely very warm and friendly but if you put up a wall, they step back. And then people say they’re not very friendly. Well, if you don’t open up to them, they’re not going to open up to you”.
When she’s not riding horses or spending time with one of her six grandchildren, Pollard is usually with her staff and guests at the hotel. When I ask her if she ever gets tired of this life, living on such a small island, she shakes her head and smiles. “The whole world arrives here every day, there’s always new people. No day is the same as yesterday and tomorrow is always going to be new”.
Pollard is absolutely right.