Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Bumper Jamaican "all-inclusive" Winter Season

Amidst complaints of a deteriorating Jamaican product and much concern about heavy discounting this past summer into fall, Jamaican hoteliers Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and John Issa have continued to develop and expand their all-inclusive hotel operations around the Caribbean.

On August 21st,2001, Stewart announced that Sandals would be adding a new property in Cuba to its chain, Sandals Hicacos Resort & Spa, a brand new Five Star, 404-Suite resort will commence operations in 2002.

That announcement was to boost the Chain to some 18 properties. Earlier this year Master Butch began new construction on a 360 room, Beaches Whitehouse property in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Earmarked for completion in March 2003, the site it is said, will employ 600 workers during construction and 400 employees at its completion.

In July 2002 Beaches, the family Brand of Sandals International relaunched Jamaica’s premier Resort for family vacation, the Bocobel Beach Property under its control. This as Sandals International was able to gain lease management of the stellar Childhood playground ahead of The Issa Superclubs chain, the most recent managers of this pristine location.

Beaches has been expanding rapidly ever since Stewart hogged up the two nearby Ocho Rios properties of Plantation Gardens and Ciboney, which have been elevated to luxury status repackaged and renamed Beaches Royal Plantation, and Beaches Grande Sport at Ciboney.

Last Month October11, 2002, Sandals launched its new Grande St Lucian. Stewart had bought the 284-room property from Hyatt in May. The resort underwent an extensive EC$20 million upgrading programme. This includes the general upgrading of all rooms and public areas, a new Caribbean restaurant, two piano bars; entertainment area and a sunset tower lounge with an authentic British pub.

Additionally, a new, fully equipped enclosed fitness centre and an aerobic studio have also been constructed. Five new treatment rooms have been added to the spa, as well as a new couple’s sanctuary specialty treatment room. Last year, Sandals spent just under US$95 million in the St. Lucian economy – $32 million of which accounted for salaries and welfare benefits. With the Sandals chain recording year-round occupancy in excess of 70 per cent, the Sandals Grande St. Lucian is expected to create even more business opportunities for St. Lucians.

The Sandals push follows Superclubs Chariman Issa late Last year annoucement of his companies reach into Curacao. Issa at that time had signed a management contract with Lionstone Hotels & Resorts to operate Princess Beach Resort and Casino in Curacao as a SuperClubs Breezes resort.

– Click here for SuperClubs Home –

The property now Breezes Curacao reopened in late 2001. A delightful addition to the Superclubs chain that brings it up to 16 and counting worldwide, eight in Jamaica and eight in the Caribbean and Brazil. There are also three other properties under construction, two in Cuba and one in St. Kitts we are informed.

In September we were greeted with news that the Superclubs signed management contracts with Sol de Plata Hotels and Resorts to manage two resorts: Puerto Plata Beach & Spa Resort and Punta Cana Spa & Casino Beach Resort Dominican Republic.

It’s obvious Sandals along with the Superclubs family now have a duopoly on the Jamaican product, but many wonder if it’s going to work a full 100 for Jamaica. Butch Stewart and the Directors of Sandals International along with his competitors, the Issa’s are confident that Jamaica will continue to benefit from the strength of the two chains and any success it achieves in setting up shop elsewhere .

Yet they blame the present govenment for its’ unfaithfulness to tourism or its’ failure to address education literacy among locals which will in effect hurt the Jamaican product that is declining fast.

Tour packaging folks are reportedly smiling at the hoteliers claim, as Jamaica is now a product that is reeling and has been in this mode of instability for some time. Buyers believe they now have the edge and can bargain away at Jamaican suppliers, hitting some rock bottom deals. This for a product that was once among the top tier in the elegant luxury vacation market.

It is widely being circulated in the travel industry that the Jamaican All-Inclusive brands are superior products compared to the Allegro CLUBMed variety, but in a climate where a wider cross section of hospitality service brands are available across the Caribbean, more supply of rooms are translating into lower vacation prices and less durability for destinations which host a discount sale everyday.

“The wear and tear of the Jamaican product has less to do these days with the actual physical product than with the machinery and value judgment top management officials have been making.” says one insider.

From all indications times are getting more difficult in the travel business. Jamaica’s competitors are spending more and advertising more frequently to swing the market their way. If Jamaica as a destination is going to survive it will have to work harder to gain its’ tourist dollars, that’s a given. I honestly believe more research and home grown creativity is needed at this juncture to rejuvenate all our marketing efforts.

The Jamaican tourism/government officials need to look beyond whether Sandals or Superclubs or their all-inclusive brands will survive or die, as what is at stake is much larger than Hotel brands.

Jamaica’s image and identity is being devalued daily, thus any marketing effort that is organized in the future needs to look beyond the travel market.

The Island now competes in a global commodity market, selling rum, coffee, flora, spices, flavors, produce, music, furniture, designer apparel, pastry etc. Their is need for marketing efforts to accentuate all that is good about our people and the things they produce.

We have more to offer the world than white sandy beaches, and Hedonistic frolicking in earthly scenery.

Even while this is so, Issa thinks Casino gaming (which is already in Jamaica with discreet blessings of government and legal-overseeing entities) is a must for the Jamaican product. As Orlando is losing out to Las Vegas in the US market and destinations in the Caribbean, such as the Bahamas and Aruba, which have openly and officially slept with the devils, casinos are thriving tourism money mecca’s.

The Church however remains adamant that no casino should be apart of Jamaica’s future and they have the support of most Jamaicans, as Jamaica remains a staunch religious country with overtones of radical fundamentalism, and naturalistic philosophies.

Overplaying the positives of the country, while exposing the craftsman, skilled artisans, farmers and the culinary richness to the world as a brand, I know what I would improve for our survivability in existing markets, while sounding our intentions in other markets.

The “Buy Jamaican” National program in the 1980’s was a great step forward. The TV/Print/Radio advertisements were well produced and had the right objective in mind.

In today’s increasingly hostile market, a campaign of this magnitude is necessary to give all our industries a fighting chance.

Tourism or Hospitality brands are not the only things Jamaica has merchandising and Jampro the government promotions agency headed by the lethargic and unsuccesful Patricia Francis, may well need to be merged with the JTB, as promotions of Jamaica become redefined and integrated to benefit all Jamaicans.

We have many other superior Jamaican products at large, popularizing them and the made in Jamaica productive effort would truly remake us and our identity.

Showing others our strengths more clearly, while forcing within us a new understanding about ourselves as a people.

The frequent negative images, of drugs, murder, guns and high risk entertainment is starting to grow on us and soon its going to stifle our children’s chances of healthy development.

Already many of our young are starting to believe that nothing good/above average can come out of Jamaica. ***SEVERAL CARIBBEAN destinations reported an upswing in U.S. visitor figures for the first half of 2002 vs. the same period last year. Hugh Riley, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s director of marketing for the Americas said the increases were “an indication of the travel industry’s resilience.” Posting increases were: Barbados – 4.4%; Curacao – 6.9%; Grenada – 16.5%; Guyana – 22.3%; Montserrat – 31.8% and St. Vincent & The Grenadines – 0.8%.

About the author

Phil Dinham