Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Treasure Beach hotels to make push for J’can tourists

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Sunset Resort and Villas in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, is closed, but the owners are planning a grand reopening soon, with particular focus on local guests.
Jason Henzell, proprietor of Jakes Hotel.
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LONG REGARDED as the forgotten stepchild of Jamaica’s tourism industry, Treasure Beach was dealt a massive blow when the Government, on March 24, closed the country’s borders to inbound travellers amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

With the vast majority of the south coast haven’s business generated from overseas arrivals, small hotels and guest houses in that section of St Elizabeth are now reeling from the fallout in bookings. But operators say they are readying plans to tap the domestic market to stave off doom.

Kory South, general manager of the 14-room Sunset Resort and Villas overlooking the Caribbean Sea, said that an inward focus is the last gasp to keep his small hotel afloat. Like all hotels across Jamaica, Sunset laid off staff to cut expenses.

An estimated nearly 200,000 direct tourism workers have lost their jobs or been furloughed since mid-March.

No date has been set for the reopening of the borders. And even the green light is given, it is expected to take months before airports are back to full capacity and for the engine of the global travel industry to be at full throttle.

Expansion plan

In the meantime, Sunset is eyeing new horizons with local tourists as South anticipates that international travel will not rebound to pre-COVID-19 levels soon.

“We already have a pretty decent clientele from Kingston, so that’s a plus. But while we have not yet begun any serious marketing, it is something we are working through while doing some renovations,” he said.

In the interim, South has ordered personal protective equipment for staff, while holding “refresher courses and training”.

One of the two more popular small hotels in the area, Sunset Resort and Villa attracts only 15 per cent local occupancy, with the majority of guests from the United States, and Canada, and Europe.

“Now we are expanding the place somewhat, adding a few more rooms, and will be hoping our locals will come through some marketing to coincide with the local bird season and the Calabash International Literary Festival in September,” said South.

The annual Calabash International Literary Festival – a staple event held in Treasure Beach since 2001 – often draws hundreds of leisure seekers to the area, filling up traditional rooms and opening up avenues for regular folk with Airbnbs. But all of that is not assured given social-distancing and other coronavirus restrictions that don’t dovetail with the coastal culture of frolic and freedom.

Caribbean push

The local market is a big part of the diet of the popular Jakes Hotel, says owner Jason Henzell, who shuttered the property on March 23, but remained “partially” open for bookings heading into the Labour Day weekend.

“We definitely put great value on our Jamaican guests because apart from them coming, each of them has friends and families abroad, and this is a great way of promoting and marketing the property,” Henzell said.

He is also targeting Caribbean markets, with regional cases of the new coronavirus being molehills compared to the mountains of North America and Europe.

Europe and North America have accounted for a combined 287,000 coronavirus deaths and millions of infections. The English-speaking Caribbean has recorded 1,561 infections.

“There is a school of thought to go after Jamaicans first, then other Caribbean countries, and then expand beyond that. We are watching how things evolve just a little bit longer before going all out for those potential guests,” said Henzell, who also owns the Jack Sprat Restaurant and Lover’s Leap Tour.

“Very few hotels, unless they are owner-operated over 10 rooms, could rely on just Jamaican business alone to be viable, and if we are to be fair with ourselves, a lot of Jamaicans who have money for a luxury villa probably have villas of their own.”

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com