With sustainable hospitality at its core, Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth offers a conscientious approach to luxury travel. Home to 66 sumptuous suites, most with ocean views and private pools, this paradisiacal address boasts some of the island’s best vistas. Surrounded by verdant tropical foliage on one side and two stretches of white-sand beaches on the other, this is a place where nature takes centre stage. Within its expansive, secluded peninsula, this full-service, five-star resort ticks all the boxes: fine food, sumptuous accommodations, and soul-nourishing wellness experiences are all part of the package.
FOUR sits down with the Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth’s Managing Director (MD), Martein Van Wagenberg, to discover all the jewels this island treasure bears…
What guided you to hospitality management, and how has your opinion about the profession changed over time? What elements of these experiences make you an effective MD today?
I started my career in the hospitality industry, let’s say, pre-internet. Through the years, I have pretty much covered every position, which gave me a very good understanding of luxury service (the old-school way). The way to do things has evolved (for example, technology gives us more data but also forces us to always push ourselves to do better, as it is now easier than ever to compare with competitors). Still, the key to the industry remains the people, the hospitality, to be a host; that is my calling. Understanding the need of each person, no matter if it is a client or an associate, is essential to effective management. I am able to do my work thanks to the team, so together, we can deliver a personalised experience.
Can you describe Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth’s history and how it has evolved since opening…
The now Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth opened in 1986 as Hotel Guanahani. It was one of the first luxury hotels on the island and, with 58 keys, the largest. A few years later, another 8 keys were added to the current key count of 66. Through the years, the resort has experienced multiple renovations, and in 2004 we added the Clarins Spa, bringing the wellness experience to the resort. Since my arrival in 2013, we have been renovating and upgrading the rooms, section by section, and in 2016, we celebrated our 30th anniversary with a full rebrand, and Le Guanahani was introduced. Hurricane Irma made us accelerate the renovation of the entire beach area, which took a little longer as we are located in the middle of a nature reserve, and preservation and protection are important to us. After four years of a full re-design (2017 – 2021), we re-opened our doors as Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth with Sense, A Rosewood Spa wellness experience; Beach House St. Barth dining experience; Rosewood Explorers for the families and, of course, the personalised Rosewood service approach. It was the first time a large luxury brand (with 25+ hotels and resorts) opened in St. Barth.
What elements of being the MD of Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth are you passionate about, and what brings you the most enjoyment in this role?
Being a Managing Director at Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth is one of the ultimate luxury hotel positions. You are in charge of relaying the brand’s message to your team and, together, creating unique experiences to be relived over and over by our guests. I have a long personal history with Rosewood as I was an MD at Rosewood Little Dix Bay and Las Ventanas, A Rosewood Hotel, prior to accepting the position at Le Guanahani. I am very happy to have rejoined my family and be part of this amazing brand again. I could not be happier. I really enjoy the foundation of the ultra-luxury brand; I am inspired by our CEO Sonia Cheng’s vision and the message of Relationship Hospitality, which is essential for me. It is all about the people, and Le Guanahani and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts have amazing talents at all levels.
Please describe Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth’s aesthetic concept, architecture, and interior design…
With stunning architecture by David Schwarz Architects and unique interior design by Luis Pons Design Lab, the newly renovated and named Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth evokes the rich, authentic French Caribbean heritage of the island with a signature style featuring vibrant design hues of turquoise, inspired by the Caribbean water; yellow, reflecting the tropical sun; and lavender, a nod to the South of France.
What makes your management style unique? What do you find to be most challenging about the work, and how have you responded to these challenges?
Due to my background and having worked in almost all positions in a luxury hotel, I am extremely hands-on. It is important to me that I welcome the guests on arrival and say thank you once they leave. I love to walk the property and have informal conversations with clients, visitors and also my amazing colleagues. From engineering to housekeeping, food and beverage, and administration, you will probably see me at some point of the day in each of these departments and the others, too. Identifying the right talent and bringing them to our beautiful location is even more challenging for a remote destination. Living on an island is wonderful, but some adjustments must be made. Delivering the Rosewood service requires human qualities like passion and organisation, for example.
What do you think are the key differences that set Rosewood Le Guanahani St.Barth apart from its rivals in the sector?
We have to consider St. Barth as a large resort, and each hotel is one of the amenities. Each hotel has its own attributes and ambience, which sets us apart from each other with uniqueness. Firstly, at Rosewood Le Guanahani, we have space, 18 acres of a private peninsula with direct access to two beaches. This is our largest luxury, followed by privacy with the stand-alone bungalows, most with ocean views and 20 with private swimming pools. For the nature lover, the property is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, and we have a nature hike within the resort perimeter (Le Morne, a 10-minute hike). For the families, we have fully equipped children’s facilities at Rosewood Explorers. I wish I were a kid again; what they are doing is amazing. For couples, we have space and also an adults-only pool by our spa. For the wellness aficionados, we have the largest spa on the island, which includes 8 treatment rooms, a fitness centre with superb Panatta equipment, an adults-only pool, a beauty salon, and an array of wellness classes. We also have a great dining option with Beach House St. Barth offering 3 distinct atmospheres changing through the day to always renew the energy. Finally, the Rosewood service experience, the best way to understand it, is to come and live it.
How does Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth consistently meet its high hospitality and service standards, and what do you find most challenging to achieving a reliable high standard?
This is a never-ending task. When you think you have found the solution, you must start rethinking how to do better and be different. We have some certitude, but the goal is always to challenge ourselves and think outside the box. We often look at other industries unrelated to luxury hospitality to see what innovation is happening and if we can implement it locally. Guests have high expectations, even more when it comes to Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, and we have to deliver the quality and consistency of personalised service while showing a true sense of place. The key is to select the talents that can help you continually deliver the experience. It is all about the people.
How would you describe Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth? What would make people want to visit Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth?
Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth is the best expression of French joie de vivre infused with warm Caribbean energy. You come to our beautiful resort because you want to have a sense of place. Same as why you come to a Rosewood Hotel because you want to feel the destination while experiencing personalised service.
What do you think guests look for in their accommodation, and what features make them return?
It is all in the details. The way the accommodation is set up, the flow. Disregarding the size of the room, a guest needs to feel better than at home. They need to discover something. These days, of course, technology plays a big component, but it needs to be friendly. For example, I recently travelled to Europe and stayed at a beautiful, non-branded hotel. At night I decided to have a relaxing room service and watch a movie. I am so used to being able to mirror my phone to our TV at Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth and stream a movie, that I forgot it is not common in every hotel. It is all about simple little things which can make a big difference.
Guests return to Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth because they feel at home throughout the entire experience (accommodation, service, view and amenities). A true sense of place and the friendliness of the associates.
Have you seen a difference in the guest needs over the years, in particular, differences in what they expect from both Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth and the local region?
Guest needs are constantly changing; it is linked to the world we live in when we are always looking for something new. I mentioned that you can mirror your TV; a flat-screen has been the expectation for a few years. Wi-Fi of good quality is a must and must be included in the room rate, which is a key expectation these days. But technology is not all; what guests want is to have an experience, to discover something new. When they come to Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth, they embark on a journey of discovery. Just walking through our garden to the beach, you will see beautiful vegetation and feel the place.
How does Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth draw from and incorporate local culture and work with local artisans, craftsmen, and components?
In the native Taino language of the Caribbean, “Guanahani” means “Welcome”.
The inspiration behind the hotel design is the spontaneous gesture of courtesy: “a bow, hand on the heart and the tip of a hat”. We are probably one of the most colourful hotels I have ever seen, with the exterior mixing turquoise for the ocean, yellow for the sun and lavender from the south of France. Through the design and nature, you will understand the destination.
The hotel is part of the renowned Rosewood Hotels group of hotels – what values does this instil in the property, and how are these reflected in its offerings?
The association between Le Guanahani Hotel & Spa and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts was meant to be as the property has a true sense of place. Becoming Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth has pushed the property to even greater heights with the Rosewood service experience. The design, the culinary experience, the wellness approach and the personalised service are pushed to new heights as part of Rosewood. For example, the arrival experience at the resort is very residential, with a separate lounge area with no longer the traditional desk in between guests and associates. Creating proximity, not necessarily physically, but emotionally, with a greater understanding of the guest from the moment of the reservation to the moment of departure, until their next stay as part of our legacy members.
Tell us more about what guests can expect from a stay at the hotel, including any of your favourite aspects (rooms, gastronomy, spa, etc.)…
I love to walk around the resort and immerse myself in nature and the perfect blend of bungalows along the way. I must have walked every inch of the property a thousand times, yet I still discover something new. It is fantastic to see this through the eyes of our guests. This is what they can expect: discovery, experience, and emotional connection with the destination.
The rooms have a beautiful ocean view (only a few have garden views), and all have large private terraces where you can relax and enjoy the sound of nature. As a wellness aficionado, I love the state-of-the-art fitness centre featuring Panatta Italian fitness equipment, some of which are designed by renowned Pininfarina.
What hospitality industry changes would you like to see in future, and how have you moved to incorporate these in Rosewood Hotels?
I have believed for some time that all hotels have to set high goals for a sustainable approach. At Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth, we have already removed the single plastic use, and we are looking to push even further with our new BMS (A Building Management System) regulating energy usage. We reduced our consumption by 30% compared to 2017 before our closing. Water preservation is essential for our destination, and this is the reason we have invested significantly in rainwater collection for grounds maintenance: we use Atmospheric Water Generators, offer multi-use water bottles and utilise the latest state-of-the-art desalinisation plant and sewage plant to irrigate our gardens. This is in addition to the more basic things, which are still important, such as the low-flow system shower heads and water saver faucets that reduce water usage by 3-6 litres.
Please describe your favourite highlights of the hotel, including accommodation, facilities, and amenities. What do you feel will or has left the biggest impression on guests?
From an accommodation standpoint, our Lagoon suite for families or friends travelling together is one of its kind in the destination. The suite is located directly on the beach; if you open your window from the main bedroom, you are on the beach, overlooking the lagoon. For the facilities, the entire Beach House St. Barth complex — our restaurant, bars, pool, beaches and boutique — is magnificent and a mind-blowing experience for all. At first, you arrive, and you see this beautiful oasis of tranquillity with the lagoon, the sand, the infinity pool and all around the building, transporting you to the French Riviera, mixing with a Caribbean influence. Being able to enjoy a feet-in-the-sand dining experience or a more formal dining experience is really unique, all in one.
Please describe your favourite dish(es) and drinks on the menu and how these appeal to guests…
Chef Cedrik and his team are very creative. I love the scallop mousse and Icone caviar; it is simply a delight for the eyes and palate. The same goes for the langoustine and asparagus. Not only is the visual presentation attractive, but the flavours are sublime. It is not often, but I also have a sweet tooth, even if I am doing my best to control it. Our pastry chef, Julien, is doing such a great job that I indulge myself in regular treats. His Baba with local rum, a typical French dessert with local dark rum, is a symphony which will touch your mind.
Bar Mélangé is a haven for mixologist afficionados. The team is so creative that even if the menu is excellent and offers some twists on classics, my best recommendation is to go and challenge the team. Give direction for a cocktail or mocktail like Gin, a long drink, not too sweet, more veggie flavour, spicy, and let them create the magic in a glass. I have never had the same nectar of flavour, which is why our bar is so unique. In addition, if you are a Scotch fan, then you have a large selection of Macallan, for example.
Any there upcoming developments or events that visitors can look forward to?
Every month we have new culinary delights to share thanks to our extremely creative food and beverage team. From a legendary wine dinner with an exceptional winery to a Scotch experience with a brand ambassador, or a night-under-the-stars movie experience to a feet-in-the-sand cooking class, there is always something to look forward to. Fashion is also important to the history of the island and the hotel, so we have recently partnered with Brazilian fashion brand Adriana Degreas for an exclusive bathing suit line; it is absolutely splendid. The Brazilian vibes blend with the French joie de vivre, a mix of classic and festive.
To find out more about Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth and book, contact the hotel using the below details:
Rosewood Le Guanahani St. Barth
Grand Cul-de-sac, 97133
French West Indies
Tel: +590 590 52 90 00