Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Denzil Whyte, sales and front office manager at the all-suite El Greco resort in Montego Bay, simply grumbled his displeasure.
"We know our limitations where Jamaicans are concerned," he declared.
He was referring to the trend, now confirmed by the voice of many in the business of running hotels, that holidaying Jamaicans are increasingly making a beeline for all-inclusives in the summer months when rates are not at the sky-high levels of the winter season.
It means that a property like El Greco that banks on local clientele faces stepped up rivalry from sophisticated resorts, whose bread and butter business is normally to be found offshore.
"We are about 60 per cent full now," Whyte said.
The rates are lower than the typical all inclusive at US$105 per night for two persons, but as Whyte notes, "Jamaicans on a whole prefer to go where they can have it all."
The 93-suite hotel gets its best support from what Whyte describes as high-income earners across Jamaica who love to quietly entertain family and who might, he notes, "have done and seen it all" and are, therefore, less inclined to desire the party atmosphere of the all-inclusive.
"We do offer all three meals and have packages which include them, but most locals prefer to drink all they can and eat all they can for one price," he said.
The competition for Jamaican clientele is a fairly new development inside the hospitality market.
In the height of the downturn, resorts in recession-hit countries began to tour the virtues of 'staycations' - a vacation in your own backyard, so to speak - to entice business even as unemployment numbers climbed and life's luxuries, such as travel, became harder to afford.
Jamaican resorts too adopted the concept in the off-peak season and, according to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), that segment of the market is now growing.
The latest staycation offer has come from Braco Resort & Spa, which is offering rates of US$99 to US$120 per night until October 31 for Jamaica and CARICOM residents.
"Jamaicans choosing to vacation in Jamaica has been steadily increasing - they stay in both EP as well as all-inclusive accommodations," said JHTA president Evelyn Smith.
She cautions, however, that the evidence is anecdotal.
"The percentage varies per hotel. For some members, on average, for the year it could be as high as 10 per cent. An average overall for the industry is probably five per cent, but again this is based on feedback in meetings as opposed to any proper statistics," said Smith.
"Many small properties have been known to have a loyal following of Jamaicans who enjoy the small property ambience, and flexibility offered by a non-all inclusive — in other words it does allow them to explore and enjoy other restaurants or it also is simply more economical for some."
Manager at the Cosmo Travel Agency in Kingston, Angela Tingling, posits that the apparent preference for all-inclusives might be due to the increasing desire of Jamaican consumers "to have everything done for them".
"They choose the all-inclusives where everything is done for them. They don't have to think. The villas and apartments are cheaper but the all-inclusives are a better selling point," said Tingling.
Comfort over price
Not only is comfort a bigger draw than price, according to Tingling, all age groups tend to flock to the all-inclusives, although the more mature from Kingston will choose hotels in Ocho Rios because they are closer, while the young select Negril which moves at a faster pace.
"All of them have been doing promotions since June and July," said the travel agent, referring to the all-inclusive resorts.
"The average Jamaican can now afford to do a nice weekend in a hotel. Many are now choosing to stay local instead of flying off to Miami."
The Jamaica Tourist Board and Ministry of Tourism both were unable to provide data on staycation rooms and the evolution of the trend.
But Zein Issa-Nakash, vice-president of marketing and environmental affairs for the SuperClubs Group, one of the top all-inclusive chains in Jamaica, says Jamaicans are feeling more comfortable with the concept of holidaying at home.
"We have always had good support from the Jamaican market for decades and it has been steadily growing. Our Jamaican-resident business is year round and as would be expected, it is heaviest around holiday periods," said Issa-Nakash
The group operates Hedonism II in Negril, Rooms Ocho Rios, Rooms Negril, Breezes Grand Negril and Breezes Runaway Bay, as well as other properties abroad.
A representative at Apollo Travel Service in Kingston who did not wish to be named said that room rates offered to Jamaicans by local hotels might be even lower than advertised summer discounts, "if you ask for it".
"They choose the all-inclusive because you get everything and you do not have to leave the hotel. Jamaicans like the summer when rates are not sky high. I personally have never made a booking for locals in the winter," the agent said.
Rates currently being quoted by BookIt.com include steep discounts being offered by Grand Bahia Principe, Secrets St James, Sunset Beach Resort and Spa, Riu Montego Bay, Sandals Grande Riviera, Riu Ocho Rios, Couples Tower Isle, Jewels Dunns River, Riu Negril, Iberostar Rose Hall, Riu Palace Tropical and more.
Riu Ocho Rios is said to be offering individual nightly rates of US$76 down from US$217 nightly while Couples Tower Isle is offering US$190 per person per night, down from the US$328 in the recent winter months.