Doumeng Sr., hotelier and tourism advocate, dies


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ST. THOMAS - Richard Doumeng Sr., longtime hotelier and champion of the territory's tourism industry, died Monday.

He was in his late 70s.

Doumeng began his career as a watch salesman on Long Island, N.Y., where he grew up.

After visiting the Virgin Islands in the 1960s, he fell in love with the territory and moved his wife and five children to St. Thomas in 1969.

His first business venture was a charter houseboat company called Aquaminiums, but he soon found his true passion when he and his wife, Joyce, bought Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in 1974.

Although he knew nothing about the hotel business when he started out, Doumeng turned the property from a 33 percent occupancy resort into one of the most successful resorts in the Caribbean.

Doumeng also pioneered the all-inclusive resort concept in 1974 with his Club Everything Plan.

Over the years, he branched out into the tourism industry. He bought Villa Olga Guest House and Restaurant in Frenchtown in 1976.

In 1978, the Doumengs bought the Ho-Tei, a popular sailboat, and later bought the catamaran Heavenly Days, which still sails out of Bolongo.

In 1988, Bolongo purchased Limetree Beach Resort, but the Doumengs sold their interest in Limetree in January 1996, after Hurricane Marilyn had severely damaged the property.

In 1990 Bolongo took over the management of the Elysian hotel, but the property was sold in 1996 after Hurricane Marilyn.

An avid diver, Doumeng started The St. Thomas Diving Club, which became the official dive operator for many of the island's resorts. He also was instrumental in the relocation of the Cartanser Senior from the Gregorie channel to Buck Island to create a shipwreck dive site.

He first became president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel Association in the 1970s, and served six different terms as the association's president.

He also represented the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Hotel Association, serving as an officer and board member for more than 30 years.

In 1988, the Caribbean Hotel Association honored the Doumengs, naming them "Caribbean Hoteliers of the Year" and placing them in the association's Hall of Fame.

Doumeng also served many years as director of the American Hotel and Motel Association.

Locally, Doumeng became one of the first hoteliers to serve on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors and as its vice president.

His son and namesake, Richard Doumeng Jr., said his father was opinionated, community-minded and a hotelier at heart.

"My dad's idea of vacation was to go to the Caribbean hotel industry conference," he said. "He never stopped learning."

Richard Doumeng Sr. was also an active participant in local politics and was following the V.I. Senate hearings on the taxi franchise bills just hours before he died Monday, his son said.

"He was a strong personality, that's for sure," Richard Doumeng Jr. said.

He said his dad's philosophy was: "If you're going to be that opinionated, you better be that involved."

Richard Doumeng Jr. said his father's success as a hotelier was fueled by two main ideas: the guest experience is what matters and the easiest way to happy guests is to have happy employees.

"It's been more about who we are than what we are," Richard Doumeng Jr. said. "The what we are is pretty good, and the who we are is what separates us from most of our competition."

Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Wednesday that as owner and manager of the Bolongo Bay Beach resort, Richard Doumeng Sr. made countless contributions to the development of the tourism and hospitality industry in the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean.

"He advocated for the development of small hotels, knowing that there was a unique place in the industry for such facilities," deJongh said.

"With the death of Dick, the Virgin Islands has lost a giant of a person, who not only promoted small hotels but the overall industry itself. I first met Dick when I was a commercial banker at Chase Manhattan Bank as it was the first account I was assigned. He was aggressive and tough and knew what he wanted, but he was equitable and willing to work to the conclusion. He promoted the best that the Virgin Islands had to offer," the governor said.

Bolongo will host a casual celebration of life in honor of Richard Doumeng Sr. on Dec. 1 on the beach.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be made to the Boys and Girls Club at Oswald Harris Court Community Center or the Lucky Paws Foundation.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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