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Resort employees remember Charley, look towards future

By Staff | Aug 13, 2009

Five years after Hurricane Charley swept through Southwest Florida, leaving massive destruction in its wake, South Seas Island Resort has soared to new heights, like a proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes.

The resort’s managing director, Rick Hayduk, wasn’t on staff during the cataclysmic event, having started his position with South Seas Island Resort prior to the summer of 2008. However, he said that by the time he arrived, most of the major renovations were already finished.

“The heavy lifting was nearly complete. There were still some secondary, tertiary, minor projects that were being finalized, [but] all of the big stuff had been done,” Hayduk explained. “What we’ve been working on are what I call refinement projects.”

South Seas was closed for well over a year due to the damage wrought by the storm.

“That period was very difficult. It was closed for just under 16 months. We then staggered reopening dates,” Hayduk said, noting that the resort officially opened on March 17, 2006, but certain amenities – such as the resort pool complex – hadn’t been completed yet.

“We’re a big organization but, from a cultural standpoint, there were a lot of lingering effects on the amount of work it took to get the place open. And even when we opened it, there was still so much to be done,” Hayduk said.

Hayduk acknowledges the $140 million that went into restoring the resort to its former glory, but he makes an important distinction – it’s not the amount of money that was spent, but how it was spent.

Appealing to the modern traveller is also a critical part of the equation, Hayduk said, citing the new and improved pool complex as evidence.

“What was there before was appropriate for the time, but for today’s traveller looking at a place like South Seas – you have three pools, you have waterslides, you have the infinity edges. That would be more about not so much what was spent, but how it was spent,” he explained. “The design and the work were all phenomenal and I think that’s probably the key.”

Interestingly enough, Hayduk noted, is that this summer the resort is seeing a tremendous influx of guests who came pre-Charley and have not been back since.

“This summer we’re getting a lot of people coming back,” Hayduk said, noting that he’s heard many guests saying such positive things as ‘I haven’t been back since Charley, you guys are doing an amazing job” and “It’s old South Seas!”

“I didn’t see that my first summer. I didn’t see that last year,” Hayduk said.

What’s next for South Seas

“We have some entitlements to expand to put in new amenities, such as a boutique hotel, but at the same time, the capital market is going to dictate how quickly we can do that type of thing,” Hayduk said.

In the meantime, he continued, South Seas is focusing on offering high quality programs and amenities.

“We’re taking the existing space and maximizing what we can put in there to enhance the member and guest experience.”

This means selecting only the best kinds of offerings and options that are most suitable for the resort and its clientele. “I was approached by a health and wellness person who wanted to come in, but it wasn’t really fitting for South Seas, so we declined. You have to pick and choose,” Hayduk said.

But Hayduk says that it’s also a matter of balancing the tastes and desires of the resort’s entire target audience – not just one kind of traveller.

“It’s a family resort and people like options. But at the same time, it’s an upscale resort. Luxury today is not as well-received because of the economy, so our positioning is, it’s comfortable,” Hayduk said. “You have to balance your offerings. We’re feeling very good on recreation and we’re also seeing what guests really want. They’re big into education, they’re big into the environment and they’re big into fishing, so we’re focusing on those areas.”

“If we were not to spend another dollar in capital, we still have a lot to do in programs, amenities and, of course, we can always improve the service experience as well. That’s our big focus right now, the service and friendliness of the staff, and that’s a full time initiative,” he added.

Hayduk also recognizes that transforming the resort is a learning process.

“We’re learning. Some things work and some things don’t work. I think in some cases, the past is terrific, but the past has to be transformed for today’s traveller.”

But Hayduk – ever the perfectionist – is hopeful and ready to tackle any challenge. “There is still a lot that we need to work on and I’d say that we still have a ways to go.”

To learn more about South Seas Island Resort, visit www.southseas.com.