St Mary travel company making waves
ORACABESSA, St Mary:
The rural village of Oracabessa, St Mary may be an unusual setting for one of the country's leading online companies, but thanks to the benefit of Internet technology, business owners are no longer restricted to the corporate areas when deciding where to set up shop.
Vacation expert Sharon Sheriff-White, who is originally from Kingston, first came to St Mary in the early 1990s, working for the SuperClubs group at the Beaches resort in Boscobel. Twenty-five years later, she still operates in the tourism sector, but now runs Jamaica's only company specialising in river and ocean cruises.
Speaking last week to Rural Xpress, Sheriff-White explained how she evolved from training hotel staff on the north coast to managing a company that coordinates holidays and excursions for clients from as far as Saudi Arabia.
"I was born in St Andrew and came to St Mary because of the hotel industry, but stayed because of love," she giggled. "I started out in the 1990s in hospitality management training back in the days of Hotel Oceana, which was downtown Kingston at the waterfront, and 'the' hotel at the time.
"I transitioned to the all-inclusives such as SuperClubs, and then into tours and translating Spanish. But around eight years ago, an old injury flared up, which prevented me from being more mobile, and so I developed an agency model and started selling packages from home.
"In January 2016, we started Sheri-Funtastic Travels and Resorts Ltd, which is a travel company specialising in cruises, resort packages, and excursions. Now, I have a storefront, but we are 100 per cent Internet-based.
"We specialise in the Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and MSE cruise lines, and have partnered with some of the strongest brands, including Carnival Cruise Line, Princess, Ama Waterways, Avalon, and Viking. Maybe 95 per cent of the clients we service come from outside of St Mary and 65 per cent are international. In terms of business, the Internet has really changed everything."
Sheri-Funtastic Travels and Resorts recently became the exclusive local agent for Love and Harmony, a five-night cruise, which sails from Miami on 27 February 2017; docks two days later for a party in Ocho Rios; and is headlined by reggae acts such as Beres Hammond, Third World, and Queen Ifrica.
Sheriff-White believes that by focusing on niche aspects of the tourism industry, her company can become a major player in the highly competitive Jamaican market and suggests that clever holidaymakers searching for online bargains should leave the booking process to experts.
She explained: "We are trained, certified, and have direct connections with the cruise lines. We like to tell people the Internet was made for searching and agencies were made for booking. Spend as little time as you need to online because the information is overwhelming. Speak to a specialist who will guide and match exactly what you need with the right product. Don't spend too much time hunting."