Mark Durliat, CEO and co-founder of Grace Bay Resorts, talks about his career in real estate development and hospitality, the advantages of Turks and Caicos for US vacation home buyers, ensuring profitable exceptional guest experience, the development process for Rock House, and updates on upcoming projects.
What inspired you to pursue a career in hospitality and real estate development, and what led you to focus specifically on the Caribbean market?
My initial interest in the hospitality and real estate industry came early in life. A close friend of my father developed property. I remember always being fascinated by seeing his buildings and homes come to life. It took some time to happen, but in my early 20s, I began to feel that property development might be for me. After completing my college degree, I spent 12 years in Europe & South Africa, where I learned about resort development. I returned to the US and after a 10-month search in the Caribbean, I fell in love with Turks & Caicos on a visit in the early 2000s following a fateful tip from a wise real estate investor who had visited here briefly. Three days in, after having spent considerable time meeting with professionals in the community, I was on a morning swim, and I looked back at the shore. The beauty of that moment, combined with the limited due diligence I had completed in those three days, somehow overcame me. I realized that feeling I had could not be unique to me and decided then and there to establish roots in the Turks & Caicos. When the opportunity to buy Grace Bay Club presented itself, it happened naturally, and the rest is history. After 10 months of searching in other Caribbean islands, within 72 hours of stepping foot on Providenciales, I knew I had found my place.
Mark Durliat, CEO and co-founder of Grace Bay Resorts
Can you speak about the unique advantages that the Turks and Caicos Islands offer for U.S. vacation home buyers and how you see the market evolving in the years to come?
Turks and Caicos have zero restrictions on foreign property ownership and no property tax, which are reasons enough to buy, but Turks also have the added benefit of using the U.S. Dollar and English being the official language, which makes it even more convenient. The islands are an easy transition for any U.S. native looking for a vacation home. Plus, you really can’t beat 350 days of sun, and the proximity to New York- it’s only a three-hour flight – is a nice bonus. We have been seeing a steady increase in people looking to buy outside of the States, and specifically, in Turks and Caicos, the sales volume increased over 60% last year alone. With exciting new developments coming online, we expect to see similar statistics this year.
As a developer of both luxury residential and hospitality properties, what do you see as the pros and cons of investing in residential resorts, and how do you balance the needs and expectations of both types of buyers?
The way I see it, there are more pros when it comes to investing in a residential resort than cons. Just last year, we saw inflation hit a 40-year high and the median home mortgage payment was up almost 50%. During times like these, it’s important for vacation homebuyers to feel confident they will be able to offset expenses with rentals, allowing these luxury residential resort homes to pay for themselves. At Rock House, buyers can utilize their home for themselves as much as they please, and while the home is unoccupied, it participates in our rental program and luxury positioning as a member of Leading Hotels of the World. So, on top of the homes being maintained by Grace Bay Resorts all year, whether the owners are there or not, buyers can generate revenue.
Managing and owning resorts can be a complex endeavor. How do you ensure that your properties provide an exceptional guest experience while also being profitable?
I have spent decades working on developments in the Caribbean, and was able to transform Grace Bay Club from a small waterfront hotel to a resort generating more than $54 million annually. There are a few important things to consider when you are developing, managing, and owning these properties: we understand what our target buyer is currently looking for. We choose locations for our properties that stand out among other residential resorts in similar top-rated destinations. We enhance the luxury market with amenities and assets that might not be available elsewhere. When you put in the hard work and keep your own expectations on a project high, as well as bringing on a stellar team like the Grace Bay Resorts staff, who boast a high level of service unlike most others, it is easier to meet those expectations, and naturally, the guests and profitability of the property benefit.
Can you share some insights into the development process for Rock House and what sets this Mediterranean-inspired luxury residential resort apart from other properties in the Turks and Caicos market? Additionally, can you provide any updates on your new upcoming Grace Bay Resort developments?
My wife, Melissa, had the original vision for Rock House. During a trip to Turks and Caicos back in 2016, she was driving our young son around, trying to lull him to sleep, when she came across the limestone cliffside that Rock House now sits on. It took some convincing, but I came to see her vision, a Mediterranean-inspired cliffside resort similar to those found in Capri or on the Amalfi Coast, and just like that, Rock House was born. I think we’d both consider Rock House to be a passion project, where we’ve melded the sophistication of the Mediterranean with the warmth of the Caribbean. Rock House offers a more private, cliffside vacation than the larger, all-inclusive resorts found throughout the islands. With a secluded white-sand beach and serviced Beach Club, a 130-foot jetty for romantic oceanfront dining, the largest infinity pool on the Providenciales, and in-room spa treatments, it really sets itself apart from other resorts and properties on the market.