In paradise, it's passion before profit
Saint Lucia's Troubetzkoy family strives to do the right thing at its ultra-lux Caribbean resort
Somewhat like Paul Gauguin’s artistic romance with Polynesia more than a century ago, when newly minted professional architect Nick Troubetzkoy, from British Columbia, landed on the island nation of Saint Lucia back in the early 1970s, he never looked back. And just as Gauguin changed the very nature of Post-Impressionism and Primitivism, Nick, along with wife Karolin and son Yasha, has redefined environmental consciousness for the hospitality, travel and leisure marketplace across the Caribbean basin.
It all began with a humble engagement to design vacation villas in the emerging tourist areas near the island’s capital city of Castries and nearby Soufriere. As days turned into weeks, then months, Nick felt the strong tug of serene island living, and he never left! A few years later, Nick had a chance to join a group of investors securing a large parcel of land across the bay from Saint Lucia’s iconic Gros and Petit (or Piti) Piton mountains, a World Heritage Site. It didn’t take long for him to buy out his partners.
Today the Troubetzkoy “empire” comprises primarily the ultra-luxurious 29-room Jade Mountain resort, on a rise with a perfect view of the Pitons, and its sister and adjacent property, Anse Chastanet, villas and apartments sitting on the pristine beach 200 steps below. From these ambitious beginnings, the family has evolved into one of the largest employers in St. Lucia, with nearly 600 full-time employees. Karolin serves as executive director, marketing and operations. Yasha is an assistant managing director. The three other Troubetzkoy children have chosen careers in other areas.
Environmental Consciousness Before It Became Trendy
As their properties grew in size and value, the Troubetzkoys — long before eco-tourism became a “thing” — fretted about the impact of the resort on the environment and bemoaned the mountains of trash and recyclables that an all-inclusive five-star destination generates. What to do?
“You have to start somewhere,” Nick says, adding with a grin, “and it all starts with Malbec.” But beyond the wine, sea breezes, sun, stars, and the smiles, real initiatives have taken hold and matured over the last few decades at Jade Mountain/Anse Chastanet (JM/AC). One project that really resonates across the whole island is its water reclamation system, based on a centuries-old reservoir that lay buried and forgotten on the property, formerly a large sugar plantation. According to operations and facilities manager Carl Hunter, the Troubetzkoys excavated and reclaimed the reservoir and turned it into a gigantic holding tank that now supplies all of the fresh water for the resort.
“The family has a conscience,” Hunter says, “and everyone wants to give back to the island that has given us so much. We really do have some best practices to share, we’re passionate about protecting the environment, and we’re willing to sacrifice profit to do the right thing.” Conceding that the reservoir was a “lucky find,” Hunter beams as he declares that 100% of the resort’s water needs are satisfied by the infrastructure the family has built. There’s even a full-service industrial laundry tucked away in the hills that allows the facility to monitor the use of detergents and phosphates and control how wastewater is reclaimed and reused.
The Troubetzkoys also approved the construction of a manmade wetlands project, known as a “reedbed,” to prevent any inadvertent discharge of wastewater into the marine environment. This process, Hunter says, involves “utilizing nature and the hyacinth lily to clean our water so that it subsequently can be soil percolated.”
Turning Trash into Treasure
Out in those same hills, on a small hidden plateau that Karolin describes as “back of the house,” another jade mountain of sorts, built from green and clear glass water bottles, gently rises among the rugged landscape. It is here that the resort’s “waste management and landfill diversion” program takes shape. When a Troubetzkoy is troubled by something, action ensues. With no commercial recycling available on the island, Nick and Karolin figured out a solution: Recyclable material — glass, aluminum, plastic, paper, and more — is gathered daily and stockpiled until critical mass, meaning sufficient tonnage, is reached. Then JM/AC works with what Hunter calls the “local informal recycling community” to prevent bulk waste streams of value from being landfilled. “When we have enough to make it worth buying, we can sell it,” he says.
Closer to home, so to speak, and closer to Nick’s heart, are the architectural flourishes that define Jade Mountain. Each room, he says, “is designed to be a sustainable and ultra-low energy luxury guest space.” A key feature of many of the suites at the top of hill is a missing wall, cleverly conceived to permit what Nick calls “shaking hands with nature.” The missing walls are incorporated in such a way as to preserve total guest privacy while permitting gentle trade winds to skim over personal infinity swimming pools, “providing thermal comfort enhanced with evaporative cooling as incoming air interacts with the water’s surface.” That's a lot of words to frame up natural air conditioning, and you have to see it and feel it to believe it!
Praise and Recognition from Peers
A century ago, Pablo Picasso and other renowned artists of the age acknowledged the impact of Paul Gauguin on their creativity and their work. In much the same vein, the entire Caribbean Basin has recognized and honored the pioneering work of Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy. Earlier this year Nick received The Saint Lucia Medal of Honour (Gold) “for his outstanding contributions to the development of the tourism industry in St. Lucia.” A month later Nick and Karolin shared the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit.
The list of “top 10” and “best in the Caribbean” accolades is too long to cite, but it’s important to note that Nick and Karolin’s commitment to sustainability resulted in Jade Mountain becoming the first ever Caribbean hotel to earn LEED Gold certification. And along the way, both Troubetzkoys have participated in international and regional initiatives as elected executives of various local and Caribbean-wide associations and professional organizations dedicated to environmental awareness, structured economic development and measured growth.
Now, nearly 50 years into their adventure on Saint Lucia, the Troubetzkoys aren’t slowing down a bit. Nick gets going in the morning with a triple espresso and the New York Times website, he and Karolin have lunch together every possible day, and Yasha is leading the charge for the next generation at JM/AC. Nick focuses on “next steps” planning for the resort, including architectural planning and future development, and Karolin keeps a tight rein on operations and expenditures.
The couple have no plans to retire. After all, Karolin asks, “What good is a family business if you let other people run it?”
Scott Chase joined Family Business magazine 20 years ago. He specializes in family businesses in philanthropy, destination travel and luxury products.
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