The island of Sal in Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa, gets thousands of tourists each year to enjoy the white sandy beaches and Cape Verdean cuisine and music, among other attractions.
On this island full of mega resorts owned by foreign companies targeting high number guests, there is a smaller hotel that is competing with the big boys. And it is Cape Verdean owned. Nicknamed the “Hotel de Charme,” the Odjo d’Agua, located on the beach, opened in March 1999 and it was just named by TripAdvisor as the second best hotel in Santa Maria, Sal. Second to Hotel Morbeza and besting high-end all-inclusive hotels is Riu Funana and Riu Garopa.
?We aren?t looking to attract everyone to our hotel,? says founder/CEO Patone Lobo. ?We are a niche hotel that tries to deliver great service while introducing our guests to the culture of Cape Verde.?
This intimate atmosphere has attracted famous guests such as the former president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, who has stayed twice at the hotel. Other notable guests have included the American ambassador and the former president of Brazil Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva.
Why has the hotel thrived? The Lobo Family is very involved in the day-to-day operations. Patone Lobo learned the ropes of the hotel business at Hotel Morbeza, where he was manager from 1975 to 2000. This inspired him to open Odjo d’Agua, Restauranet Piscador in Santa Maria and Restaurante Cometa on Santiago.
The hotel, unlike the all-inclusive hotels on the island, strives to convey the real Creole atmosphere.?With a calm atmosphere and the family experience, Odjo d’Agua offers its clients a wide range of quality services by allowing them the opportunity to relax and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of your environment. One of the hotel?s objectives, says Lobo, is to promote a connection between the guests and the people of Cape Verde.
Most of the hotel?s guests come from England, Germany, Nordic countries and Holland. American tourists are not as common, though they do get a few. Lobo is hoping this changes. ?Right now there are no direct flights into Sal from the U.S. American tourists have to take a charter or fly into Praia, Santiago, then take a plane from there. If we had a direct flight from Boston we would see more guests from the States,? says Lobo. (Praia is the capital of Cape Verde, of the island of Santiago. It?s about a 40-minute flight?from Sal).
Sal, says Lobo, has a lot to offer. ?We have low criminality, many water sports, nice weather,? he says. But Lobo is working to bring in more tourists and to make Sal more attractive to the tourists who already come to the island. He successfully campaigned with the government to open up a second municipal office in beach resort town of Santa Maria. Currently there is only one, in main town, Cidade dos Espargos. ?We will get one soon and it is necessary because most of the tourists are here,? says Lobo. ?We need the government to be in the areas to make sure the streets stay clean, safe, etc.
Lobo also likes to encourage?locals from the other islands to stay at the hotel. ?We offer special discounts to Cape Verdeans.?It is very cheap for them to stay here,? he adds. The Lobo family is full of not only entrepreneurs, but also musicians. Ildo Lobo, a close relative, is one of the islands most famous singers. And the hotel celebrates its musical heritage by offering artists 50 percent off the room rate.
Tourism in Sal continues to grow. ?Last year we had 350,000 visitors to the island,? says Lobo, who is also vice president of the Chamber of Tourism. ?This year the number is expected to be 400,000.??According to Lobo, the island is seeing a growing number of wind-sail enthusiasts and people who want to go on big fish excursions.
Odjo d’Agua has 50 rooms and a spa. And the restaurants are not only favorites with guests, but guests from the other hotels and locals often come to Odjo d’Agua to dine on Cape Verdean cuisine.?There are four restaurants in all at the hotel
All around, Lobo and Odjo d’Agua want to deliver the Cape Verdean experience to guests and non-guests alike. “We are always working to make the hotel better and better,” he says. “The best part of my work is to hear that people have enjoyed their stay and can?t wait to come back to Cape Verde.”