British couple fast became pioneers in paradise

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When Robin and Sue Ricketts arrived in Anguilla in 1978, there were two small hotels and one restaurant.

The British-born couple’s experience in the hotel industry around the world had brought them to the Caribbean to take charge of hotel start-ups first in Aruba, then in Martinique and Bonaire. While visiting friends on St. Maarten, an afternoon boat outing brought them to the neighboring island of Anguilla.

“All we could see were beaches, one after the other,” Robin said. “We thought, ‘My God, this is just heaven!’”

After meeting with government and tourism officials about their desire to start hotel projects, the Rickettses decided to settle on this beach-rimmed isle, at least long enough to give it a go.

“We had the expertise, but not the money,” Sue Ricketts said. “We secured land rights to a prime 20-acre beachfront site overlooking Meads Bay and Turtle Cove, but needed to find the finances to proceed with building what would become the Malliouhana, Anguilla’s first luxury resort.”

Within months, Leon Roydon, an investor vacationing on St. Martin (the French side of St. Maarten), came looking for land to develop. “Lo and behold, we sealed the deal,” she said.

Two luxury villas opened in 1981. The main 55-room hotel opened in November 1984.

“Giorgio Armani was our first guest in the villas,” Sue said. “There were no credit cards, no 800 numbers and no computers; reservations came in by Telex.” Other celebrities and well-heeled guests also found their way there, none more surprising than former President Richard Nixon, who swam ashore one day from his yacht, along with his Secret Service companions.

“We invited him in for a drink and discussed events in China with him — in the bathroom no less!”

Once the standard-bearer among Anguilla’s luxury resorts, the hotel closed in 2011, an apparent casualty of the worldwide economic downturn. It is expected to reopen this year under new ownership.

The Rickettses left the Malliouhana shortly after its full opening in 1984 to help create and manage Cap Juluca, another of the island’s best-known hotels.

Three six-bedroom villas opened in 1988, while construction continued all around them.

“Those days were much like what is portrayed in Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival,” Sue Ricketts said. “We had telephones, but no electricity. Generators powered everything. We prayed they wouldn’t give out and leave us in darkness.”

Within three years, the Rickettses, known throughout the Caribbean for their expertise as hoteliers, were lured away from Anguilla for the first time in 13 years.

“We left in 1991 to help start up Grace Bay Club in the Turks and Caicos, then spent about a year in England before returning to our home in Anguilla.”

In 1997, they were asked to return to Cap Juluca, which by then had grown to an 18-villa, 98-room property. Sue oversaw worldwide sales and marketing while Robin sat on the management board. Before the couple left again in 2007 to handle luxury villa rentals, the resort was named No. 1 in the Caribbean by readers of Condé Nast Traveler.

It wasn’t long, however, before they were back at hotel work. They took on ownership and management of the upgraded and revitalized 27-room Anacaona Boutique Hotel in 2010, an affordable alternative to Anguilla’s luxury resorts.

“Anguilla has become our home, in every sense of the word,” Sue said. “It’s our world, and one in which we’re very happy to have spent the majority of our lives.”

“We want everyone who comes here to see what a wonderful place this is,” Robin added, “and it’s not just because of the amazing beaches or the variety of cuisine. It’s the people, really, that make Anguilla special.”

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