MARIGOT–Six months after Hurricane Irma, Mercure Hotel, Marina and Spa in Baie Nettle announced Thursday it has 120 air-conditioned rooms in “perfect condition” out of a total 182 rooms, and all its hotel services are fully operational.
The speed of the recovery gives owner Arbia Baki immense satisfaction, making this major chain hotel the first property on the French side to return to normal service. However, the hotel never closed, even after sustaining damage from Irma and losing many of its staff. Twenty employees left immediately after Irma without giving notice.
“We had to hire six new staff for a total today of 45. But what I noticed after Irma is that good staff get better and the worst just disappear. The ones that stayed are very good employees,” Baki observed.
In those difficult days the hotel was occupied by residents, construction workers, insurance agents and adjusters, architects, and many Gendarmes camping in damaged rooms, but no tourists. The hotel continued to function, in a manner of speaking. Today all the Gendarmes have left except the unit of 17 that rotate and stay in the hotel on contract.
“Normally, at this time of the year we would be full, but given the circumstances we are at 50 per cent occupancy, that’s with tourists,” Baki states. “But everything is open; the spa, kitchen, restaurant and bar, and swimming pool. The fitness centre will be finished in a few days and the beach will be finished next week. We are even renting out the jet skis.
“The hotel is completely secure, all the doors lock, and the fences separating our property from the next are up. Work to get the remainder of the hotel rooms ready continues, but it’s all minor work. No drilling, no noise. The marina lost its wooden docks, but reconstruction starts next Monday.
“We have put new 50-inch smart TVs in the rooms and next Monday we will receive new Internet (IP) TVs that will offer 200 channels. We can offer this because we have fibre optic here already. For entertainment we have a pool party and BBQ every Sunday and Karaoke Evening every Thursday. The gardens have recovered and in two weeks’ time we will receive 200 coconut palms.”
Three French Ministers will be staying in the hotel next week – the Minister for the Environment, Tourism Minister and Minister for Overseas Territories – and Air France and Air Caraïbes airline crews will be returning for the first time on March 28.
If all this good news is not enough, Baki mentioned projects that will enhance the hotel even more. One such project feeds into his passion for art. Art is already visible on the hotel exterior walls. Driving past the hotel on the main road one cannot help noticing construction of a long wall that extends along the length of the property. Twelve artists from Ecole de Sète in the South of France will be painting unique designs on the wall in April.
“It will be amazing,” Baki enthuses. “I promise you, people will come from all over to take photos of the wall.”
He said he had purchased Layla’s before Irma and Ma Ti Beach after Irma. Both restaurants and beach bars are located on the opposite side of the road, close to the hotel. This gives hotel guests the option of two private beaches to go to.
“I bought the land as well, which is 1,300 square metres on the beach. It’s a good investment. All the guests do is sign at the restaurants, no money needed. Both will open in December 2018. It was a disaster there after the hurricanes. Just for the clean-up we spent over $100,000. Now we are creating bigger parking areas. It will be gorgeous, and I have beautiful and unusual outdoor furniture coming for Layla’s, using recycled wood,” he said.
Ma Ti Beach will be mainly a select seafood restaurant with fresh fish, sushi and lobster, but also with a choice of steaks and pasta.
Baki is credited with transforming the Mercure from a three-star property to four stars. He invested 8 million euros in upgrades between 2012 and 2014 until Irma arrived and set everything back.
“We have had to redo everything again. We hope to have hurricane and earthquake-proof concrete roofs on the five buildings soon. The Dutch-side company I.C.E. is already doing the study for that. We want to produce our own electricity with solar panels as we are already produce our own water. Another improvement will be to have lifts in the buildings for our American guests,” Baki said.
A new restaurant and kitchen on the water side with flat roofs and an upgraded marina for yachts are other projects. Baki estimates completing his vision for the hotel will take 10 million euros. That will come mainly from insurance, a grant from the French government and two million that he will need to find himself.
“I see a nice future because we still have a very nice island. People are friendly and I’m sure we are going to come out of this stronger,” he said optimistically.