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Heart and journey of a hotelier


GERCINE CARTER

Heart and journey of a hotelier

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A busy weekday morning finds Ralph Taylor poolside at the Aquatic Centre, up front with other exuberant parents, cheering on his sons, eight-year-old Nicholas and nine-year-old Oliver, both participating in their school’s swimming sports.
The busy executive admits he can hardly spare the time, but this is a commitment which the family man considers he must make for his two young sons – quality time spent away from the fast-paced world of the hotel business.
Taylor, 59, is also the father of a 24-year-old daughter Kimberley, and 29-year-old son Justin from a previous marriage. He is quick to tell you all four of his children are his heart.
It is a heart that has been touched by watching the demise of a business that he pioneered and successfully grew, but from which he was forced to walk away as he watched its dissection.
He is the man who introduced the all-inclusive concept of hotel accommodation in Barbados, and with the financial backing of a local business conglomerate, created the Almond Resorts group of hotels whose flagship was the sprawling Almond Beach Village in St Peter which closed last year after a prolonged, difficult period.
But Taylor’s heart has also been full of gratitude for the ability to write another chapter in his entrepreneurial manuscript – the opening of the new SoCo Hotel on the South Coast. He leans on the support of family – second wife Stephanie and his children – to forge ahead with his business ambitions.
This son of a shopkeeper was born in Melverton, St George, and educated at the now defunct Lynch’s Secondary School once located on Spry Street, Bridgetown. He has been recognized as the Caribbean Hotelier Of The Year, and has received other accolades locally and regionally for his prowess in tourism.
But as a boy growing up in the country, Taylor, one of seven children, would never have imagined himself as a successful hotelier.
In his father’s shop which sold “from cotton (thread) to pig snout”, he was exposed to the rudiments of business early. Yet his eventual career was far from his mind. In fact, he says it was “completely by accident” that he got into the hotel field.
In his teenage years he had set his sights on becoming a professional cricketer with a back-up profession, considering the uncertainties for a cricketer at the time when it came to securing work outside the cricket season.
That is why he began studying to be a chartered accountant which landed him a job as an accounts clerk at Asta Hotel in Hastings, Christ Church.
Taylor quickly worked his way up through the ranks, working at different hotels until he was eventually elevated to the post of chief financial officer at Rockley Resort, one of the leading South Coast hotels of the day.
“My early life in tourism was really finance, but because I started in a small hotel environment – small hotels are interesting because you get to do a lot of stuff – you had to learn to be cross-functional.”
The experience brought the realization that he loved the hotel industry itself more than finance and by 1980 he decided: “I want to be a hotelier.”
By his early 20s Taylor was preparing to go off to hotel school in Austria when the manager of the hotel at which he worked thwarted that move, suggesting that with Taylor’s practical knowledge and experience, it was perhaps more advantageous to consider a hotel apprenticeship overseas.
The young man took the timely advice and settled for an apprenticeship at the Torquay Devon Hotel in Britain. In his words, “a quick evolution” followed that saw him not only working but also seizing every opportunity to broaden his knowledge, taking a host of relevant courses in a range of related disciplines to give him the academic reinforcement he would need along the way.
In 1991, Taylor persuaded well-known businessman Sir Douglas Lynch that Barbados Shipping & Trading should enter the hotel business, and after Taylor’s meetings with the company’s principals, the business conglomerate was sold on the idea.
Thus began the enterprising Barbadian’s foray into the world of all-inclusive vacations, creating a new market of travellers attracted by the prospect of going on vacation with their minds at ease, knowing that their all-inclusive holiday expenses were covered in all the important areas.
“I always thought it would be one of the key concepts that would drive tourism in the future,” Taylor told the Sunday Sun.
He was behind the acquisition of four hotels that formed the Almond Resorts group, building a brand that quickly gained international recognition and won Barbados a strategic niche in the global marketplace, and providing in the case of one of the hotels, the largest block of rooms in a single hotel.
After nearly two decades of growth and success, Taylor was forced to watch as new owners dispersed of what he had worked so hard to build, succumbing to the global recession.
As he spoke at the official opening of SoCo Hotel last week, he described his latest hotel project as “the beginning of a new era . . . the continuation of my hotel journey which has been devoted to creating and developing new niches in tourism”.
With his plate ever full with business-related activities, Ralph Taylor would be expected to have little time left for his role as husband and father. But he plans well and time is factored in for this vital part of his life.
He even gets a chance to lose himself on the golf course, this being one of his favourite extra-curricular activities. He also runs for exercise and reads, even though his choice of recreational reading may be restricted to tourism industry-related material.
Drawing on his own success, his word to young people who may want to follow in his footsteps is: “Be focused, grasp all the educational expertise you can about what you are going to do, and try and develop something that has legs.”

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