Like a thoroughbred racehorse that breaks slowly out of the gate, the Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort has been finding its stride over the past few years.
“We have a market that is very unique to the island,” said Kate Clewell, executive director of the 56-acre property off Folly Field Road that was built in 1981. “We are a moderate family-oriented resort. We offer one- and two-bedroom villas right on the ocean that are affordable and well maintained. We’ve been able to make a lot of upgrades to the amenities here.”
Several million dollars have been infused into renovations and capital improvements over the past year alone, thanks to the strategic thinking of the resort’s three homeowners associations and their boards of directors, said Clewell, who joined the staff in 2000. All of the property’s 846 villas — oceanfront, ocean view, resort view and tennis — are fully equipped with kitchens and are privately owned.
“We’re doing phenomenally well,” said general manager Chris Roberts, noting that the resort’s rental bookings are up 50 percent this year over last. “Right now, our sales (rentals) are double what they were five years ago.”
“There have been a lot of improvements, evolving upgrades, to help us maintain the property,” Clewell said. “We do it in planned, gradual stages.”
The checklist of upgrades includes painting villa building exteriors, replacing sidings and balconies, renovating roofs, resurfacing the roughly 1,000-space parking lots throughout the property, and fine-tuning the four boardwalks stretching from the resort lawns to the beach and ocean. The beach is no more than a three-minute walk from anywhere on the grounds.
There have also been a host of other changes:
- Gator’z, which used to “look like a convenience store,” Clewell said, was completely gutted and remodeled into a casual and comfortable 40-seat restaurant, showcasing the resort’s signature square pizza and chicken wings.
- CocoNutz was transformed into a sports bar and entertainment destination, featuring 17 high-definition televisions, pool tables, dartboards, interactive games and nightly promotions.
- At the beachfront Jamaica Joe’z, tourists and locals enjoy a revamped casual menu with an array of burgers, sandwiches, light bar fare and, of course, tasty tropical beverages.
- The 12,000-square-foot ballroom, which can host up to 1,000 guests and serve as a business conference center or a wedding reception site, has been modernized with a new ceiling, new tiles and new moldings and completely repainted. The remodeled private Carolina Room, adjacent to the ballroom, offers a private entrance, two bars and an outside deck overlooking a freshwater lagoon.
- The walking deck at the island’s largest swimming pool, which sits oceanfront, sparkles with new pavers in three different sizes, and a smaller second pool at the Admiral’s Row villas complex also received a makeover.
- Upon registering in the lobby, hotel guests will notice a new ceiling, new lighting, new furniture and an array of fresh greenery.
- Tennis fans will enjoy the 10-lighted resurfaced courts and remodeled pro shop.
The resurgence in the resort’s popularity coincided with the board’s takeover of the food and beverage operation in 2010, “when we really started looking at the overhaul operation,” Clewell said. The board also dispatched with a property management company and took on those duties in-house. Now Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort has positioned itself as self-contained community, with 55 full-time staff members, utility and cable hookups, restaurants, bike rentals and more. Some of the resort’s guests never leave the property because of the abundance of activities available.
A key marketing aspect of the resort’s upswing in bookings can be traced to its expanded Internet presence, a complete redesign of its website earlier this year and its push to brand itself as a moderately expensive, value/family-oriented Hilton Head destination.
“Our challenge was to get the word out to people to say, ‘Hey, you can come to Hilton Head without spending $300 a night and be at a resort,’ ” said Roberts, a longtime veteran in the hospitality industry. “That’s made a big, big difference to us and, we don’t see that changing; we see us as growing and growing.”
The word has certainly gotten out to families in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, the resort’s primary markets. Typically in springtime, getaways to Hilton Head are three- to four-day weekend stays, then weeklong visits when summer arrives and the school year ends.
“We’re an affordable place on Hilton Head,” Roberts said. “At Myrtle Beach, the whole community is affordable; it’s hard to find a luxury property there. Here, it’s just the opposite: to find an affordable beachfront property on Hilton Head is our signature thing. We were probably the best hidden secret on the island.”
“They (guests) are pleasantly surprised,” Clewell said. “It’s a well maintained property, affordable and right there on the ocean.”
Beach or tennis anyone?