Rose millionaire Peter Barnhoorn opens resort on St. Eustatius

Sint Eustatius is a relatively unknown island that is part of the Windward Islands in the Antilles. A small and quiet island, where you will find some hikers and divers. Not a place where throngs of tourists go on holiday, because those who want beautiful beaches and a vibrant nightlife will quickly choose one of the neighboring islands, such as Sint Maarten or St Barth.

Investment gone wrong

What inspired entrepreneur Peter Barnhoorn to open a hotel here – St. Eustatius has 21 square kilometers -? In his own words, it started as ‘a craziness’, but now the wealthy rose grower spends much of his time there.

When Peter Barnhoorn accepted a business proposal about five years ago and invested in a plot of land on the island, it was just that: an investment. “I had zero interest in going here even once,” he says in the lobby of his Golden Rock Resort, which opened in September.

The idea was that the 16 hectares of land would be divided into building plots and then resold. But when, after a year and a half, nothing had been done about the rough patch of land, Barnhoorn flew to the Caribbean to see for himself.

Rough and strewn with rocks

He did not particularly like the hotels from which he could choose for his stay. “That was really nothing at all.” This is how the idea arose to build a beautiful hotel ourselves. Barnhoorn, who set up the largest rose nursery in the world in Ethiopia with the family business Afriflora, knew what to do with the plot of land that lay on a slope and was strewn with rocks.

Because the majority interest of the rose company has been sold and Barnhoorn has to be in Africa less often, he also has time for this project. But it was not an easy job. Just leveling the ground and installing a sewage and irrigation system was an investment of millions.

Barnhoorn was not deterred. Because even though the floriculture and hotel industry are two completely different sectors, the basis is the same, according to him. “The knowledge of setting up a company is worth its weight in gold. It’s about maintaining an overview and smashing the big obstacles.”

Putting St. Eustatius on the map

One of the obstacles for his resort, of which the 32 hotel rooms are ready, but the 26 detached villas and a second swimming pool are still under construction, is that few people have Sint Eustatius on their radar. “If this hotel would be on CuraƧao, it would have been a lot easier,” he says realistically.

“Look, I had never heard of this island before and now I’m in love with it.” The challenge therefore lies in putting Statia, as the residents call their island, on the tourist map. And this is done in collaboration with the local government.

The island is happy with the arrival of Barnhoorn and his resort. “They see that I don’t quickly set up something and leave again, but that I focus on the long term and that means I get a lot of cooperation.”

Important employer

For example, the roads on the entire island are now being improved and many islanders are working at Barnhoorn. “There are now 84 working in the hotel business and another 60 in construction.” It makes him the third largest employer on the island.

Something Barnhoorn is proud of. Years ago, the Barnhoorn family with their company Afriflora was in the news negatively after it was claimed that the Ethiopian employees could barely make ends meet on their salaries. It still excites Barnhoorn.

“We have 17,000 employees there and they earn at least forty percent more with us than they would earn at government companies in the same area. We also apply Dutch standards when it comes to matters such as the number of days of paid maternity leave,” he claims.

Commercial, but fair

The Barnhoorn family has also built a hospital in Ethiopia to make medical care available. “And 9000 children are taught in our free schools.” His company organizes activities for children and the elderly on St. Eustatius and Barnhoorn is setting up more structural things, such as a room where ‘the elderly can come together to play cards’.

“We’re part of the community, so you just help.” He wouldn’t call himself a philanthropist. “We are certainly just commercial and our companies are focused on earning money. I don’t think that is a shame. But we do that in an honest way. That is also the case here on St. Eustatius.”

The salaries of his employees, all of whom he knows by name, are well above the market, according to him. “We have to, because otherwise they will come to us to learn how to do it and then they can get started anywhere.”

Barnhoorn wants to train his staff so that he is no longer needed in management. But for now he is still enthusiastically rolling up his sleeves. Everything was designed by himself. From the water system that turns seawater into fresh water, to the design of the swimming pools and restaurant. “No architect was involved.”

Garden full of roses

And of course especially the garden gets a lot of his attention. “I walk with the gardeners for two hours a day and I think I planted ten percent of the plants here myself.”

The garden is already green and colorful, but not yet finished. “Soon the bougainvillea will cover a lot of the walls. I really want to make it an oasis.” And they will also know that Barnhoorn is originally a rose grower. “My brother is collecting native rose varieties that can withstand the wind and salty air. So it will be full of roses here too.”

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