Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, operator of seven internationally-known resort properties, says golf tourism is fully recovered from the sharp Covid-driven downturn. The legendary entrepreneur sat with Westchester magazine for an exclusive interview at the site of her company’s most recent assignment, launching and managing Aurora Anguilla for its new owner, Dick Schulze.
“Luxury travel is doing better than ever,” Johnson says. “There was tremendous pent-up energy during the pandemic that translated into strong demand in the last year. We’ve been very successful at our golf resorts because golf actually grew during the pandemic. Our golf rounds are higher than ever.” In addition to Aurora, Salamander operates Innisbrook in Tampa, the site of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, and the Half Moon Resort in Jamaica. The company also owns or manages the Salamander Resort in Virginia, luxury hotels in Charleston, SC, and Washington, DC, and Aspen Meadows in Colorado.
“We’re seeing steady gains,” she says, “although it’s different in different parts of the country. New York hotels in the luxury category are only at 40 to 60% occupancy. Our property in Virginia, on the other hand, has had its best year ever.”
Salamander’s two Caribbean properties bounced back quickly from the pandemic. “We had just finished a great amount of renovation in Jamaica when Covid struck,” she says, “We tore down much of it and built some beautiful villas in an area called ‘The Eclipse.’ A week after we had the ribbon cutting, Covid shut down the world and airplanes stopped flying. Fortunately, it’s back up and doing well now.”
Aurora Anguilla doesn’t have to worry about commercial air shutdowns, she points out. The resort flies charter jets direct from Westchester County Airport to Anguilla twice weekly. The service is provided by Best Jets, a company also owned by resort owner Dick Schulze.