Resort chains weighing more villa investments as preferences change
International hotel chains are looking to develop villa communities in Jamaica, reflecting an evolution in thinking regarding the travel market that is seen as starting to favour residential-style accommodation over impersonal hotel room settings.
The pandemic impaired the tourism sector, but grew the remote-work market. One of the outcomes of that changing world of work is persons being more willing to spend extended time, up to six months even, on an island, said Chief Strategist and Adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, Delano Seiveright.
“We met a week ago with a major resort brand in Jamaica, and they are also all over the world with over 15,000 rooms globally, and they are keen on developing a multipurpose villa-like community. Villa swimming pools, golf course, and so on,” said Seiveright at the launch of realty company Sotheby’s Jamaica head office in Kingston on Friday.
Sotheby’s, which was established in the 1700s as an auction house of top-tier art, expanded decades ago to enter the luxury real estate sector. The Jamaican franchise is held by realtor Julian Dixon and the Melville family.
Seiveright did not name the hotel brand that is weighing the villa project, and declined to comment when asked directly by the Financial Gleaner.
The tourism ministry previously released a photo of a November 14 special meeting with executives of Spanish hotel chain Pinero to discuss its investment plans for Jamaica, which includes expansion, but it’s unclear whether the tourism officials met with other hotel chains that weekend.
Pinero Group operates 27 hotels globally, including the largest resort in Jamaica, Bahia Principe Runaway Bay, which has 1,375 rooms.
The hotel chain acknowledged queries from the Financial Gleaner about its future plans for Jamaica and indicated that it would consider responding. None was forthcoming up to press time.
“We are seeing a pivot of many players in the tourism space, where they realise that they want to go beyond the hotel-only concept and develop communities, villas, condominiums, recreational facilities, and so on,” said Seiveright.
The tourism adviser considers Sotheby’s Realty’s market entry in Jamaica, at a time when COVID-19 had so disrupted travel, as a boon for the villa market and luxury properties in general.
“Where COVID-19 has inspired these changes, or forced some to transition to diversify their offerings. Also, due to COVID-19, a lot more people are willing to work remotely, go to an island and spend six months working from the island,” he said.
“Your timing is excellent in coming to Jamaica. We need that segment and that profile,” he said.
Although their numbers are dwarfed by hotel rooms, villas are not uncommon in Jamaica. It’s the style adopted by large luxury resorts Round Hill and Tryall, and around two decades ago, Half Moon incorporated them in its mix of accommodations.
Among small villa complexes and single-villa properties, because of the limited offerings on-site, villa guests are seen as more likely to venture into towns for restaurants and entertainment, and in so doing experience the culture. It is in contrast to all-inclusive hotels, where guests generally stay within the complex for the duration of their visit.
Travel to Jamaica has been recovering since the pandemic, but tourist arrivals are down by half when compared to pre-pandemic levels. The major tourist gateway at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay recorded 1.76 million passengers between January and September 2021, up from 1.32 million in 2020, but down 50 per cent from the 3.6 million passengers who passed through the airport in the 2019 pre-pandemic period.