Former Caneel Bay Resort Managing Director Rik Blyth is sad to leave the simplicity of St. John, but he certainly won’t miss one aspect of life on the island — barge trips to St. Thomas for grocery shopping.
“The people were so great, and I just really enjoy the simplicity and quietness of the island,” said Blyth, who is now in his second week as Presi-dent of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association. “That being said, if you want to do any major shopping, it was a barge trip, and with two active teenage boys eating us out of house and home, groceries were an ordeal.”
“The simplicity of St. John is the attraction, but it can also be a drawback for an active family,” he acknowledged.
Blyth served as managing director of Caneel for nearly three years, during which he saw the resort through new ownership, large-scale renovations and the resort’s 50th anniversary, which was Blyth’s most memorable event at Caneel, he explained.
“The 50th anniversary is probably the thing that sticks out the most,” said Blyth. “We didn’t have a huge gala splash, but it was very important to the employees and long-time guests. We actually focused on the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park and their concurrent celebration of the VINP’s 50th anniversary last December.”
Blyth joined Caneel just after the resort changed hands.
“The sale of the property went through right before I joined, so I worked on building the relationship with the new owners,” said Blyth. “We also got the renovations underway, which were long delayed. Half of the inventory was renovated, and we got approval before I left to do the other half.”
“This year, all 166 rooms will be completely renovated, so that was great,” Blyth added.
Other changes at the resort during Blyth’s tenure include the new beach bar and a new menu and concept at the Equator restaurant.
“At Caneel, you’re truly a steward of the property,” said Blyth. “It’s not the type of place where you go in and make sweeping changes month to month. Change happens year to year, or decade to decade in some cases.”
“The classicness of the property calls for restraint in saying, ‘I’ll make improvements, but they’ll be subtle, well thought out, and within the philosophy of the property,” he added.
What’s the one thing Blyth will miss most about Caneel?
“The view,” said Blyth. “You just never get tired of it. The property itself is stunning.”
“Everyday, going from the lobby area out to Turtle Bay, you just say, ‘wow, weren’t we fortunate that Mr. Rockefeller set aside this property,’” he continued.
Blyth and his wife Shelley will move into a home they own near Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas, which has been in a short-term rental program, within the next month.
Getting Familiar with St. Croix
The new VIHTA president is looking forward to more stability in his new job, he explained.
“I’m still in the hotel business, but I don’t have the crazy hours,” said Blyth. “I’ve got more stability. I’ve been in 13 hotels in the past 27 years, and we really want to be here in the Virgin Islands.”
Blyth has spent the first few days as the VIHTA president getting caught up and familiarizing himself with St. Croix, he explained.
“I’m on my third day and counting, and it’s going great,” said Blyth on Thursday afternoon, April 12. “We had a board meeting yesterday, just getting caught up on a lot of the most important priorities. I’m going to St. Croix tomorrow to start my education on that island, where I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Blyth is looking forward to making a difference in tourism in the Virgin Islands, he explained.
“Stars Are Aligned”
“I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to make a difference in the destination,” said Blyth. “I think all the stars are aligned — we’ve got a great V.I. Department of Tourism Commissioner (Beverly Nicholson Doty) and a very active governor (John deJongh). I know they understand the challenges of tourism in the Virgin Islands.”
Although Blyth will be busy in his new position as VIHTA president, he will “absolutely” come back to visit St. John, he said.
“St. John still has the best beaches and the best diving,” said Blyth.