When it was founded in 1982, Kariwak Development Company Ltd was a pioneer in Tobago’s accommodation sector.
The cosy, 24-room hotel on Store Bay Local Road, Crown Point, quickly developed a reputation for its rootsy ambience, top-quality service and sumptuous cuisine.
It was also known for its yoga classes and night-time entertainment, particularly on weekends.
In fact, Kariwak was the first hotel in Trinidad and Tobago to enter the Tripadvisor Hall of Fame. Tripadvisor is an American online travel company, which, in part, offers online hotel reservations and bookings for transport, lodging, travel experiences and restaurants.
Today, some 40 years later, the hotel is positioning itself to be the epicentre of wellness in the region.
During Kariwak’s relaunch on April 30, the company’s vice-chairman Dr Lennox Sealey said the hotel, like many of its counterparts in the island’s accommodation sector, was severely affected by the covid19 pandemic over the past two years.
But he said covid19 provided an opportunity for the hotel to reinvent itself to meet the needs of its clientele and attract potential new clients.
Sealey said the management team reasoned that visitors and locals, wary of the pandemic, will be seeking a different type of experience when planning their vacations.
“During the pandemic, everything went down, and we said the most critical thing coming out of the pandemic is that people are going to be looking for a safe place – a place where they can feel comfortable to come back to for their holiday,” he told guests, who included Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, tourism stakeholders, credit union officials and close to 20 exhibitors.
Sealey said the team settled on wellness in its totality.
“We see ourselves as the epicentre of wellness, and we are willing to work and be leaders in the thrust of the Tobago tourism concept as it stands now so that at the end of the day, the entire island of Tobago can benefit.”
Interestingly, Sealey said Kariwak has always had the makings of a wellness facility. Its garden, bearing fresh herbs and produce, has long been a favourite with clients.
In fact, he said at one time, a doctor often brought his patients to Kariwak for therapy in an around its gardens.
Kariwak's cabanas, situated around its pool and garden, adds to the hotel's inviting appeal.
Saying it has already established “a certain amount of contact” with professionals in the field, Sealey said when Kariwak’s wellness village becomes fully operational in the not-too-distant future, there are plans to introduce a wellness calendar outlining activities for guests throughout the year.
“We would like to feel that wellness begins right here.”
Kariwak founder and chairman Allan Clovis said the hotel’s wellness packages will not be underpriced.
“One of the things you cannot do is lower the prices,” he said. “We will enhance the packages so that they get value rather than volume. We are looking at raising people’s consciousness, and there is a growing consciousness of wellness.”
Clovis assured Kariwak will continue to maintain the standards for which it has long been known.
Sealey predicted that Kariwak’s focus on wellness, plus upgrades to its existing amenities, could soon see the hotel return to 75 per cent occupancy.
He added this was one of the reasons why the company had decided to invite credit-union executives to the relaunch.
“You are the people who are in a unique position. Imagine, at a credit union, you could be a director, a member and everything at the same time, and you have a vast membership that can benefit from special deals we want to offer to people like you, credit unions.
“You have a membership base that you can tap into and we can offer – and it is not just a holiday for them, but a healthy holiday.”
Sealey said the board has already worked out its revenue projections for 2022-2023.
“We have run the numbers, we have done the homework. We have defined our strategy. We know the direction we are going in.
“But we will be monitoring them (projections) very closely, because one of the things coming out of covid19 is the need to cut cost and manage revenue very seriously.”
He said the hotel, a short distance from the ANR Robinson Airport and the island’s main entertainment hub, was also ready and willing to partner with the THA and Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL).
Narendra Ramgoolam, TTAL’s manager, tourism product development and destination management, said Kariwak’s plan to delve into the area of wellness is in sync with the island’s thrust.
He said during covid19, many countries were examining ways to reposition themselves on a growth path.
“Tobago was one of the first places to position itself for wellness,” Ramgoolam claimed.
He said last year, the TTAL held the first online tourism conference in the region, which over 300 people attended virtually.
Ramgoolam, who highlighted some industry trends, noted travellers are now looking for safety when they travel.
“They are looking to align themselves with sustainable and environmental products...If you come to Kariwak, you would know that the landscape plays a huge part in this property.”
In April 2021, TTAL CEO Louis Lewis commended 150 Tobago businesses that had acquired the "safe travel" stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The stamp, which was implemented by the council after consultation with health experts, industry stakeholders and governments, sets a benchmark for health protocols during and post covid19.
At that time, Lewis said some of the requirements include abiding by certain sanitation conditions, notifying staff of protocol, proper signage for physical distancing and providing safety equipment for guests.
“We received commendation from the CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council that Tobago is a shining example of how to implement that protocol. We are getting publicity in areas we probably couldn’t pay for, and people are seeing Tobago as an example to follow. When you look at regions like Dubai and the Pacific, we are standing out as a world leader in that direction.”
He added, “When the borders are open, people will be making choices and decisions about where they are going to send their clients. That seal is definitely going to stand out. So therefore, we are encouraging all of our partners to get on board, sign up for it, agree to the protocols. It is going to take us forward.”
Ramgoolam, in his remarks, said travellers are also moving away from mass tourism, opting instead for “value versus volume.
“They no longer want luxury properties with a lot of crowds, but small, intimate properties and experiences. They also do not want simply sight-seeing but want to be involved.”
He noted many hotels around the world are venturing into wellness but he observed the term is sometimes watered down.
Ramgoolam said, “People whitewash the term and call everything wellness, but it is really a collection of activities geared towards someone’s mental state and well-being.
“So you would see a lot of the literature now talking about well-being because it is a lot broader and encompasses a lot more than spas and going somewhere to relax.”
Praising Kariwak for its decision to include wellness in its suite of amenities, Ramgoolam said it is a good investment, at least for the next five years.
“Pair those with other types of products on the island, you spread economic wealth and you generate more activities.”
Augustine commended Kariwak’s executive team for the decision to invest in wellness post-covid19.
“We really want places like Kariwak to survive and to do well, so much so that I have been pestering the technocrats in finance to find more money so that we can create a bailout package for those in the tourism sector,” he said.
“We did some grant funding and grant funding is good. But what I figure the business sector needs now is a liquidity line with at least a 30-month moratorium before starting to pay so that you can catch yourself and have some sort of liquidity to work with.”
Some of the participating exhibitors included Newsday columnist Elspeth Duncan (Kundalani yoga experience); Penny Morris Scott and Dexter Alfred (reflexology and massage treatments); Ginny Pumpton (posture, breathing and stress release); Brunella Falco (healing the back with yoga); and Evy Parkinson (role of mindfulness in wellness).