Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Mark Ricketts | Downtown could lure prospective hoteliers

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Mark Ricketts
Abe Issa (left) and Walt Disney.
The rooftop infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore, the hottest new resort and casino in Asia, is the length of one and a half football fields.
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"The insecure seeks warmth in another's sun ... ; progress moves inexorably over the unprepared." - Dr Franklin Johnston, educator and strategist

In last week's column, I proposed the idea of a Bolt-Marley-Cliff (BMC) vacation experience initiating and spurring development on Kingston's waterfront. Complementing the BMC, while underscoring brilliance and excellence on the global stage, would be the Shelly-Ann. This skyline hotel, 30 to 40 storeys high, architecturally designed to capture elegance, class, style, and internal strength, would have fitness clubs, fabulous restaurants, great entertainment, and a gorgeous view of the city and the harbour.

In the hands of brilliant hoteliers from Latin America, Europe, Las Vegas, Jamaica, China who know how to invoke, corral, and transmit emerging themes and concepts to the marketplace, the Shelly-Ann would be a winner in London, Berlin, Beijing, and, of course, Jamaica.

The Myrtle Bank, our third hotel, could be owned by members of the Issa family, Lee, Paul, Chris, John, or it could be owned by the corporate mega-giant Disney. In its heyday in the postwar period, picture the Myrtle Bank, a building of grace and charm, abutting the harbour. Get a glimpse of its owner, the flamboyant, engaging, endearing Abe Issa, Mr Tourist himself, sitting for long stretches with Walt Disney as Disney conceived and instinctively sketched his themes and cartoons while exchanging pleasantries and ideas with the affable hotelier.

What history, what possibility if that could be a precursor to a skyline-changing hotel underscoring the sense and sensibilities of two men who were clearly ahead of their times.

What would propel Jamaica on to greatness is if we could convince the owners of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore to build something similar here. This three-tower hotel, with its iconic infinity swimming pool sitting on the roof, is futuristic. It offers visitors a breathtaking monopoly of the moon and the stars, the sea and the sun, and the heavens and the earth.

A natural for ownership of the fifth hotel is the Hilton Hotels and Resorts which is already positioned in Jamaica with its ritzy spa hotel on its own private beach at Rose Hall.

Then there is the Marriott, the world's largest hospitality company that manages and franchises a broad portfolio of hotels employing more than 200,000 people in 87 countries. With the Marriott already positioned as an upscale business hotel in New Kingston, a bold undertaking on Kingston's waterfront with its partner, Sagicor, would reaffirm both companies' faith in Jamaica's growth prospects.

 

SUFFICIENT INDUCEMENT

 

Also in the mix would be the Chinese. Having built the state-of-the-art toll roads, thereby compressing travel time, and having begun the process of getting its huge apartment and hotel complex in Mammee Bay under way, it would make every sense for China Harbour Engineering Company to get in on the ground floor of downtown Kingston's attempt to be the Singapore of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Chinese powerhouse, Anbag, which has made great strides in hotel ownership in the US, could also join the fray.

The prospect of skyline-changing hotels amid a vibrant, safe, and architecturally exciting downtown, with nightlife, restaurants, theatres, an ultra-modern international shopping mall, markets, upscale apartments, condominiums, riding trails, should be a sufficient inducement to prospective hoteliers to come on board.

Added to that is the shift in preference of vacationers, which provides Kingston a distinct advantage in being a success story. Vacationers today are melding or conjoining business trips with personal vacation, hence extending their hotel stay.

Next, there is an increasing tendency for tourists to want to explore, as against merely visiting. They want adventure; they want customised options, such as travel excursions; they want to see sights; they want romantic getaways; and they want unique experiences.

If Kingston realises its full potential and is very safe, this shift in emphasis on the part of visitors means Jamaica, and all its tourist destinations, including downtown Kingston, would experience sufficient demand for its hospitality offerings, thereby being a winner from the get-go.

The compression of Jamaica, which the Chinese have just achieved with highways crisscrossing the country, and, if we could make our railways to Montego Bay and Port Antonio operational, amenities would be shared across the island and cross-fertilisation between towns would be a given.

Vacationers at Half Moon, the Hilton, Secrets, Round Hill could overnight in Kingston for theatre, city sights, and shopping and visitors to Kingston could explore Jamaica: the Rio Grande, Negril, Dunn's River Falls, Black River, Noel Cowards' Firefly, and GoldenEye, the former residence of Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond 007 series.

 

KINGSTON REBRANDED

 

With such an evolution, Jamaica would be rebranded. Kingston would lose its warning label, 'I wouldn't go there if I were you', offered by those staying in more traditional resort towns and reinforced by Jamaicans deadly afraid of what might happen to visitors venturing into our capital city.

Kingston has to be safe, secure and on the cutting edge if we are to rebrand Jamaica. If done right, downtown Kingston could have it all: consumption amenities (a plethora of hospitality and cultural offerings); massive upscale housing and office space development; logistics and supply-chain optimisation; and safety and security.

In my article last week, I mentioned other suitors for these hotels, including Sandals owners, Butch and Adam Stewart, as well as Palace Resorts, the Mexican chain with its Moon Palace brand which owns the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort and Spa in Ocho Rios.

This chain employs more than 10,000 people in its hotels in Mexico and the Dominican Republic and would be ideal given its current bias to ownership of oceanfront resort properties, including Cancun's largest entertainment resort destination, Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort. The hotel owner's current link to Jamaica affords a greater appreciation of the global significance and impact of Jamaica's icons, Bolt, Marley, Cliff and Shelly-Ann.

A bias I have for Palace Resort's president, Jose Chapur, and its executive vice-president, Gibran Chapur, is that they see Jamaica as the most important tourism destination in the Caribbean. Moreover, within the residency and citizenship rules of our country, I would like them to bring a lot of Mexicans to work here in agriculture, education, the hospitality industry, and to play football (I will provide insights and justification for the football request in later articles).

If Jamaica is ever going to be a major player in Central and South America and in developing a logistics hub and a trans-shipment port, we had better become a bilingual nation, and by that I mean English and Spanish, not Patois and English.

Then there are other hotel heavyweights from Las Vegas who have perfected the art of celebrity entertainment and being current and relevant to market demand in the hospitality and entertainment business. For them it is "showtime, baby", so they know what amenities to offer and how to design hotels incorporating specific themes, and therefore could be likely suitors.

These hotels by their allure, their imposing presence, their sense of excitement and happening, would capture Brando's flair and bravado, 'On the waterfront'.

We have to be ready. As my friend, Franklin Johnston, says, "Progress moves inexorably over the unready."

- Mark Ricketts, economist, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper; and publisher of Money Index, a weekly business magazine. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.