Tue | Jan 15, 2019

AirBnB Experiences - A new pull for Jamaica as entertainment destination

Published:Sunday | December 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Peter Tosh on his famed unicycle.
A group of tourists visiting Alpha Institute earlier this year.
Tourist couple making a coconut stop on Island Routes mini tour.

From ramen-making with a Japanese to exploring the secret of sacred tattoos in Thailand, and even kayaking in the lakes of Dublin, Scotland, the popular virtual bed and breakfast AirBnB now offers their guests 'experiences', as designed by their hosts.

From chocolate-making in downtown Kingston, making jerk chicken in Runaway Bay, learning reggae music from well-credited veteran performers or even learning how to roll a 'Jamaican cigar', a number of Jamaicans have entered that mix, offering a range of activities to foreigners and domestic tourists.

"I believe that as a destination, Jamaica has a lot to offer for the adventurous, experiential visitor, which is why Island Routes was one of the first, if not the first, to connect with AirBnB to discuss experiences in Jamaica," Sarah Belfrage, marketing and PR coordinator of Island Routes Caribbean Adventures, told The Sunday Gleaner.

Since March 2017, the agency began offering Island Routes MINI Routes, a 'drive-yourself' experience at a cost of US225. This tour carries visitors on an all-day excursion from Montego Bay to Negril.

"The very nature of AirBnB's model and the type of customer it attracts is a very open, adventurous guest, who is eager to see and explore, and that fits us perfectly. The Caribbean in general is a growth market for AirBnB, and that excites us. Our first experience, Food and Fun Hop in Jamaica, went live just a couple of weeks ago, so it's in its infancy stages, but we're really excited about the potential and to be working with AirBnB," Belfrage continued.

At a cost of US$35, Alpha Institute offers visitors the opportunity to play reggae music with alumni of the renowned Alpha Institute on the school campus.

"For years, international music fans would 'knock' on Alpha's door and ask to see the campus. We did not realise how important the Alpha story and mission is to people worldwide. Visitor experiences make it possible for the Alpha community to engage directly with friends and supporters around the world and most important in Jamaica, who are interested in youth, development, and of course, music in experimental ways," Sister Susan Frazer, area administer, Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica, told The Sunday Gleaner.




"It was great to play music with people who respect me and respect Alpha. If it weren't for Alpha, I would not seen half of this world," Ervin 'Alla' Lloyd, keyboardist for Chalice told The Sunday Gleaner. Alla was one of instructors of the one-hour Reggae 101 session (no musical experience required) included in the package, as advertised on the AirBnB platform.

In addition to Alla, a recent group included two recent graduates from the school's music programme, hired for the exercise, along with Evrol Wray (Lloyd Parks and We The People) and Tafani Bushy Cab (who has been a part of bands with Bunny Wailer and Jimmy Cliff). Visitors were invited to walk the grounds of the school, observe the vocational training areas and meet current students.

Alpha's 'experiment' with AirBnB has so far resulted in a number of glowing reviews from satisfied patrons. One user named Stuart left a testimonial on the 'experiences' profile, which reads: "Such a cool encounter! I had little or no musical experience, but got to jam with some of Jamaica's best musicians. They took the time to teach the basics and made me feel part of the band! Can't recommend highly enough!"

"Experiences like these create mutually beneficial relationships that can last a lifetime. We are grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Alpha staff and students, whose legacy of hard work and discipline is now creating new and exciting opportunities for visitor experiences as well as vocational development and youth employment in Kingston that did not exist before," Sister Frazer said.

At a cost of US$50, former BBC Caribbean correspondent Nick Davis, has began offering a history of cacao, complete with a chocolate-making lesson at the One/One Cacao factory in the heart of downtown Kingston.

Davis revealed that his first booking through the AirBnB platform will take place this week.

"We have some of the world's best cacao. If it's so amazing, how come no one is making anything with it? I want to turn it into a value-added component. Our food is amazing. It's the cornerstone of our society, and is as much for local tourism as it is for foreign," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Pulse Investments' Peter Tosh Museum has also joined in on the action, offering two different experiences through AirBnB. At a cost of US$55, visitors can follow the life and musical journey of the late great icon and revolutionary. At the museum, patrons can continue his legacy by learning the art of rolling a 'reggae-style Jamaican cigar' with a 'woman of the herbs', who has been practising the art of rolling for over 40 years. For another US$55, visitors can select their favourite song from Tosh and record their own rendition, backed by a live, local guitarist.

Many other experiences, hosted by Jamaicans in Jamaica, include cooking Rasta food with wellness author Monique at US$42, learning how to make jerk chicken with Sherie by a riverside at US$34, a hike into the history of Rastafari - the self-named Firstman, at a cost of US$25.