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Meet Irina Bruce - A tourism ­entrepreneur ­sharing authentic J’can experiences

Published:Friday | March 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Irina Bruce (centre) hanging out with guests of her Calypso Airbnb.
Irina Bruce

Irina, a Jamaican resident originally hailing from Ukraine, has always possessed an undeniable love for travel and new experiences.

At age six, an ecological accident at a Chernobyl Power Plant in her home country forced her and her parents to seek refuge in Siberia for three years. After years battling Siberia’s brutally cold weather, young Irina made a vow to herself to live her adult life in a country where it was always summer. Twenty-eight years later, she kept that promise to herself, relocating to Jamaica to live in the sun full time.

Of the 48 destinations Irina has visited over the years, the globetrotter confesses that Jamaica tops the list.

“Jamaica has exceeded all my expectations, and it is truly one of the best countries to live in.”

In 2000, while travelling throughout Malaysia, Irina was inspired to create affordable accommodation for travellers seeking authentic cultural experiences. However, with limited funds to execute her vision, the idea did not immediately materialise.

More than a decade later, while living in Jamaica, the idea of building a guest house came to her. Initially, Irina was reluctant to invest in a guest house. She was wary of whether visitors to Jamaica would gravitate towards this type of stay considering that the local tourism market is dominated by all-inclusive resorts. In the end, her passion and conviction prevailed, and in 2014, she built Calypso Villa, a seaside retreat in Montego Bay.

“I never thought people would choose to stay in our home because it was rather secluded and in the middle of nowhere, but I was wrong. It’s actually awesome that it’s secluded and away from all the touristy spots,” shared Irina.

Within a few weeks of completion, she registered as an Airbnb host and listed her home on the platform.

As fate would have it, days after listing Calypso Villa on Airbnb, on her way to a local shop, Irina met a Canadian couple who had just arrived on the island.

“I greeted them, and we began talking. It turned out they were looking for ­somewhere to stay and mentioned Airbnb. They became our first guests and our very first five-star review. After their review published, I woke up the next morning to dozens of bookings and messages.”

Building on the success of Calypso Villa, Irina has become a local tourism entrepreneur, launching three other ventures. Her online video series, Jamaica Video Guide, shares the best Jamaica has to offer and provides tips on how to have an authentic Jamaican experience.

Etta’s Place, Irina’s second Airbnb ­listing, is just steps from the ocean. Irina also offers unique experiences on the Airbnb platform, including “Hike with 100 Hooligans”, a group hike into the hills of Montego Bay, culminating at the Montego Bay Animal Haven, a dog lover’s paradise.

Irina’s love of Jamaican culture has led her on a quest to find the hidden gems that are true representations of the island. The experiences she facilitates directly benefit her community and the small ­businesses within it.

“Our aim is to support our local ­community and small businesses. We don’t offer breakfast, or any food, in fact, and this is to encourage guests to patronise local cafés and shops that may have never seen any tourists before,” shared Irina. “It benefits guests, who have access to quality local food at affordable rates, and benefits the locals, who now have been improving their shops and cafés from the extra income they are making.”

In 2017, Irina’s Airbnb listing Calypso Villa ranked as one of the top Airbnb destinations in Jamaica and was also listed among their top 20 budget-friendly places to stay on the island.

The superhost is also a mother, wife, and teacher. With all that she has contributed to Jamaica’s tourism landscape in just a few years, Irina proves that infinite possibilities exist when your passions and livelihood align.