Mr. Browne's background is the hotel industry, from the age of 21, where he began as a bookkeeper. Whereas his partner, Dr. Ballantyne, trained as a cardiologist in the U.S. before acquiring an interest in the resort. Dr. Ballantyne explains: "I guess I was always in non-medical business because I'm from a business family. My father, who was in real estate, owned one of the first small hotels in St. Vincent. As an only child, I was always an integral part of my parents' business. Though, Young Island was really my first major business venture."
Investing in Young Island has proved highly lucrative for the business duo. To keep the luxury resort to a world class standard, their overall investment has been substantial. To date, the owners estimate this to be in the region of around US$4,000,000.00. In true entrepreneurial spirit, the men had their eyes on the resort from an early stage. "I was familiar with Young Island Resort before John Hauser, its original developer, sold it," says Dr. Ballantyne. "As Vidal Browne was working here at that time when it was up for sale, I expressed to him that Vincentians should look to get into that kind of business. I have always been concerned that many of the hotels in the Caribbean are not owned by local people. I thought that since this was the best resort in the country, I saw no reason why we could not acquire it and run it together. When the hotel came up for sale again, we were the first ones to bid for it," says Dr. Ballantyne.
Mr. Browne and Dr. Ballantyne were only in their twenties when they had the major task of raising EC$1,000,000.00 (US$370,000.00) in order to take over the resort. This seemed like a gamble at the time, yet the men are blessed with sharp minds for business which is still very much in evidence today. As Mr. Browne puts it: "We both have confidence. Our investment here has certainly proven right because we've expanded and enhanced tremendously. And we'll still continue that line because it's the only way one can move forward and make things better. It's a perpetual thing, an ongoing feature of the hotel resort business."
Today, Young Island Resort is believed to worth around US$8,000,000.00 [at time of publication in 1999]. Mr. Browne explains why St. Vincent remains a place that potential investors should consider locating to: "I have faith in our system. Our political climate is stable, therefore, your risk factor is not as great as in some other places. And, there is a good workforce available. Being Vincentians, I am committed to the development of my country."
Dr. Ballantyne also shares his partner's belief in contributing to St. Vincent's development, especially regarding the welfare of local residents: "I believe that there have been improvements in almost every sector, especially in formal education and health care."
And Dr. Ballantyne should know, having served as St. Vincent's Chief Medical Officer for more than 33 years, he was responsible for the development of Kingstown General Hospital -- one of the best equipped hospitals in the Caribbean. Although he has since retired from medical practice, he still volunteers at the hospital and is in charge of all visiting doctors: "Whenever there is a shortage of specialists I hunt them down and bring them to St. Vincent. It ties in very well with ownership of the hotel. I let doctors who volunteer their services stay for free at a first class resort, while they give service to Vincentians who cannot afford to travel abroad for treatment. I always feel that if you are part of a society, and you gain from society, you then have a moral obligation give back something."
Young Island's cottages include refrigerators, hair dryers, wall safes, ceiling fans, king-size beds (twins on request), open-air garden showers, and private patios. The Luxury suites have a bedroom, sitting room and a large terrace, some with private plunge pools. The Deluxe suites have slightly larger rooms with a sitting area within the bedroom, or they have a very large private patio. The Superior cottages are located close to the beach/shoreline, and low on the hillside. As one would expect from a luxury resort, Young Island's occupancy levels are very high: currently running at around 75 per cent annually. In the winter season, nightly rates range from US$325 to US$530 with guests staying for an average of 12 nights. Mr. Browne explains: "We receive a fair number of British guests who stay for 14 nights. Combined with our North American clients, who typically spend 7-9 nights, you end up with a 12 night average, which is good."
Though it may seem impossible to improve upon the beauty and luxury of Young Island, Mr. Browne still feels there is always room for expansion and development: "We've recently added new cottages as the map has changed and people are now looking for more sumptuous accommodations. We aim to continue to improve the quality of our accommodations. When we've accomplished that, we'll consider increasing our guest numbers. Currently, we can accommodate 60 guests, though the infrastructure itself can take slightly more than this."
Young Island Resort has consistently achieved a 50 per cent repeat business. One only need glance at the spectacular scenery to understand why guests return again and again. But as Mr. Browne explains, the resort's appeal lies beyond the idyllic setting: "We have a good formula here in that we are very low key. One of our policies is no televisions or telephones in any of our cottages, as people need that kind of escape. And, of course, we have superb staff. We have a staff/guest ratio of 3:1. And many of our guests come back specifically to see the staff. Guests do what they want to do in their own time. There is no pressure, no organized tours. If you want to do nothing, you do nothing. Guests simply set their own pace."
Dr. Ballantyne adds: "We try and foster the kind of relationship with our clients that makes them feel as if they are in their own homes. The resort has always tried to set very high standards, and I think we've managed to achieve them over the years. We set out to prove that local people could successfully manage a hotel resort of international standing, and I believe we have succeeded."