Bed and breakfast staking their claim in growth of hotel industry
When Mirriam Brown Hewan decided to enter the tourism industry, she had many detractors.
"A lot of my entrepreneur friends did not see it as an area of growth. They assumed that because of our high crime rate, over time, the number of visitors to the island would be greatly reduced. On the contrary, I disagree," she said.
Hewan is a property manager with four guest houses in her portfolio. They are located in the upscale community of Richmond in St Ann and are rented to visitors from overseas and locals who wish to visit the north coast. As a former gas station and convenience store owner, she understands the importance of good customer service in guest retention.
"The guest houses, especially Bella Vista and Seashell Villa, are extremely popular, simply because I insist on high-quality customer service. The guests are treated like royalty and are made to see Jamaica as a paradise, so even if they had negative connotations before, all of that fades away when they move in. I let them know that I care about their vacation as much as they do and that I want them to have a good time."
Her duty as property manager includes checking guests in and out of the properties, ensuring that the houses are kept clean and providing other assistance to the visitors, including transportation and a chef, if they request one.
"The guest houses are always being booked because we advertise online and allow guests to make bookings via our website or through airbnb.com. Because we take such good care of our guests, we have a large number of returnees, along with many new persons who have heard of the proficient service we offer."
She believes that there is an increase in visitors to the island and that Jamaicans who are able to, should try and get involved in the industry in some way.
"It is a prosperous industry; you will be successful, especially if you can afford to expand. I plan to acquire a few more properties next year."
When asked if her business is hindered by the all-inclusive resorts on the north coast, Hewan smiled.
"Not at all, in my experience many tourists prefer the smaller properties where they are less restricted. They do not feel as if they are just another number here."
Ronald McPherson, a 72-year-old who has owned a bed and breakfast at 17 Brook Close in Brook Green, Ocho Rios, since 1989, disagrees.
"This is my main source of income, so it is a fight with the all-inclusive hotels. When I first started in the '80s, there were not that many of them and I registered a higher number of guests. It is not a complete hindrance though, because I have a lot of returnees, many of whom are already familiar with Jamaica and have no qualms about getting around on their own."
McPherson explained that his secret to guest retention is to always ensure that the guests have a good time so that they will tell their friends. He does not have a website, but his bed and breakfast, which has eight rooms, is rarely without visitors.
RECREATIONAL AREA ON CARDS
"Cleaning and laundry is done for them, and I am trying to create a recreational area on top of my house so they can drink and relax. Hopefully, that will help to increase the number of visitors, but what I make so far is enough to sustain my lifestyle."
Deborah and Trevor Mitchell, operators of the Little Shaw Park Guest House, insist that they are successful because they dedicate all their time to the business. Having owned their guest house for 39 years, Deborah insists that it is a full-time job and that she has to be there 24 hours a day in case the doorbell or the phone rings.
"If you can't stay at home, you can't do this business," she said.
The property has a total of 20 rooms and apartments, and the couple employs three full-time staff - a houseman, a housekeeper and a gardener.
According to Deborah, her daily activities involve making sure the rooms are kept clean and ensuring that they do not overbook.
The couple noted that advertising on their website and word of mouth are how they keep getting guests, but said the Jamaica Tourist Board needs to play a bigger role for small hotel owners.
"The Tourist Board needs to be as active as it used to be. They used to have offices, but many have closed down, and I don't know why. This is important because of lot of the guests who are looking for inexpensive accommodation like ours like to go there," said Deborah.
Nevertheless, she said that she is happy with the industry and her business.
"We ensure that we properly communicate with the guests and try to keep them as happy and comfortable as possible so they will visit again."