Thu | May 28, 2020

Guest houses look to stranded visitors for business

Published:Friday | March 27, 2020 | 12:10 AMSteven Jackson - Senior Business Reporter

GUEST HOUSE operator Shelly-Ann Johnson is looking to stranded visitors to fill rooms that are being emptied by travel restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“We want to be a beacon of hope for travellers currently in the island,” said Johnson, manager of Reggae Hostel, which operates in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

Half of Reggae Hostel’s available rooms are closed to minimise exposure to the virus.

Otherwise: “We remain open because persons are stranded and need a place to stay,” Johnson said, adding that the company also slashed its temporary staff from seven to three.

“We are trying,” she said. “Business is down since the middle of March, and there are a lot of cancellations.”

Companies in the tourism market, once they are registered with the Jamaica Tourist Board and have been left vulnerable because of cancelled bookings and other issues related to the spread of the virus, will be given assistance by the Government to pay staff up to June 30. Such persons must be earning below the $1.5-million tax threshold to qualify.

Otherwise, tourism workers who were laid off after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed for Jamaica on March 10 and who also earn below the tax threshold, will be eligible for payments of $54,000.

Reggae Hostel has operated since 2013. Its Kingston accommodations, located within walking distance from the dancehall recording cluster on Burlington Avenue in Kingston, was shuttered late last year due to the potential violence in the surrounding community. Johnson said the planned relaunch has been pushed back, due to the virus outbreak.

Sharna Lynch, founder of Homespin Inn, which operates properties in Kingston, says bookings up to April have been cancelled.

“Everybody cancelled for April, but at the moment my guests are those from before who cannot leave until next month, because there are no flights,” Lynch said.

The low demand for rooms is likely to continue into summer, what with cancelled festivals and events. Lynch expects normality to return to the business over time, matching the pace of global recovery. “Hopefully, it won’t be too long,” she said.

The prevailing conditions, she believes, will lead to a reassessment of the viability of online rental as a full-time income source that landlords tend to depend on to meet fixed costs such as mortgages. Now is not the time to enter the short-term rental market, she cautioned.

“You can always list the room, but it will sit there,’ with no takers, she said.

“It is already competitive right now … there are so many developments in Kingston, and a lot of those apartments are being put online,” she said.

Airbnb, an online marketplace for short-term rentals that matches landlords with tenants, said in a notice on March 19 that it would refund service fees to guests that cancel reservations, so long as they were booked on or before March 14. Airbnb marks that date as the third day after the virus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“Guests who cancel will receive a full refund, and hosts can cancel without charge or impact to their superhost status. Airbnb will refund all service fees for covered cancellations,” the company said.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com