There’s no typical day for Karen Whitt, GM of the Regent Palms Turks and Caicos in Providenciales, but one of her key goals each morning is to engage with as many resort guests as she can.
“I like to make my way through the dining room at breakfast; that’s a great time to meet guests, when they’re starting the day and they’re not really in a hurry,” she said.
Engagement is a recurring theme for Whitt. Case in point: One needs only to speak briefly with Whitt to realize that she’s passionate about interacting with her team at the hotel, with the Turks and Caicos community and with her very large fan base of luxury travel advisors. In fact, advisor outreach is at the top of her priority list.
“It’s critical that you relate to your clients on a personal level and the best way to do that is through their travel advisors,” said Whitt, who has been GM of the Regent Palms Turks and Caicos since February 2011.
Whitt prefers to take a non-traditional approach to motivate her staff. For example, she knows that everyone can relate to music. One example of how she might start a morning meeting would be to play a song with an inspirational message.
Ensuring she has this close link with those on the property is key to her success, and the resort’s. “Staying connected with my team is the most important part of my day, because they are really the heartbeat of everything,” she said.
Because guest expectations at the Regent Palms are high, Whitt’s team is thoughtfully chosen, and all possess a can-do personality. “You can teach skills but you can’t teach love for the industry, that positive attitude, that good spirit,” she said.
Such requirements can actually pose a challenge when it comes to making additions to the resort’s team. “To be honest, it’s not easy to find the right people to fit into our group because they have to buy into our vision, they have to be as passionate about it as we are,” said Whitt.
She said it’s vital to engage with her staff and to ensure they are happy. “It’s only then that they are best equipped to provide the best customer service,” she added.
The Caribbean has long held Whitt in its thrall. In 1998, she left her hometown of Dallas, Texas, and headed to Jamaica, using her expertise in marketing and public relations to promote the island. The operations aspect of hotels piqued her interest, however, and when she got the chance to manage the Sea Splash Resort in Negril, Whitt headed to the Cornell University School of Hospitality Administration to enter its general manager’s program. Moving into the GM’s seat felt like a logical transition for her.
In 2005, she moved to the Turks and Caicos Islands to help open the Somerset on Grace Bay, which was still in the development phase. In February 2011, after about five years as the Somerset’s general manager, she moved next door to the Regent Palms.
Being on the island felt like a natural fit from the start. “The first time I visited, 11 years ago, I knew it was a very special place, full of special people and amazing potential,” Whitt said. She remembers being awestruck by the beauty of the beaches, but she was also drawn to the amount of development taking place in Turks.
Ignacio Maza, EVP of the Signature Travel Network, told us that Whitt had a strong impact on the evolution of the Regent Palms from the moment she arrived.
“Karen has done a remarkable job at the Regent Palms,” said Maza. “When the property first opened, it’s fair to say that the resort did not meet the high expectations of its guests. As soon as Karen arrived as general manager, everything changed for the better.”
Just as she embraced Turks and Caicos, Whitt embraced her role as general manager. For her, it has become a natural fit, and it’s a role she seeks to perfect.
“Being a good leader is my number-one goal,” said Whitt. “Having a great vision is useless without a qualified and motivated team to bring concepts to life and execute on a daily basis. It’s what distinguishes the ordinary from the extraordinary.”
Moving forward, her intent is to continue focusing on engaging with everyone who plays a part in the Regent Palms’ landscape. “I believe the key to success in our industry is communication, whether it’s with our travel partners, our owners, our guests or our staff; you have to keep communicating,” she said.
Charity is also at the forefront for Whitt, who is very involved with community outreach in Providenciales. Six years ago, she launched “In the Pink,” held every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to raise funds for the local National Cancer Society. An instant hit, “In the Pink” has become one of the biggest events of the year on the island.
Whitt is also extremely active on the island. Since moving to Turks and Caicos in 2005, she has been involved with the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association and she served as its president from 2008 to 2013. In June 2014, she was elected the third VP of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, the regional governing body of the Hotel Association. She also sits on the board of directors of the local community college and serves as the secretary for its fundraising arm.
There’s a convivial vibe among the hoteliers in Turks and Caicos; though competitors, they get along. “We’re not just colleagues, we socialize together and we promote the destination together,” said Whitt.
AT A GLANCE
REGENT PALMS TURKS AND CAICOS
Opening date: February 19, 2005
Number of guestrooms: 72 suites (with lockout possibilities)
Owner: Stan Hartling
Management company: Palms Resort Limited