It’s an almost two-decades-old tradition. A group of hardworking Jamaicans living in Florida spend five relaxing days at one of the Sandals Resorts across the Caribbean. By the end of their trip, they vote on which property they will visit the next year.
It’s the Duke of Earle Homecoming Tour.
The group’s first vacation was in 2003 when they were guests at Beaches Grande Sport Villa Golf Resort and Spa Hotel (renamed Sandals Ochi Beach All Inclusive Resort). Since then, they have stayed at Sandals properties in the Bahamas as well as Turks and Caicos. This year, they are staying at two resorts: Sandals Negril and Beaches Negril. The size of the group varies but this year there about 50 guests.
“People want to travel and we hope that we will continue,” says Bevan ‘Duke of Earle’ Earle, a popular US-based radio personality who is integral to the planning of the annual excursion. Participants he said, typically come from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
“They want to come to Jamaica and have a good time… Hey, you can’t beat this price. So, it is a giveback. I appreciate it and I know that people appreciate it,” he said.
He’s referring to the discounted rate group members are able to access at Sandals Resorts — $700 to $800 for a five-night stay. It all began, Earle told the Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com, when the late founder of SRI, Gordon “Butch” Stewart decided to make sure hardworking Jamaicans in the Diaspora could afford a vacation at home.
“This was born because Mr Stewart called me one day and said, ‘Listen to me, there are many people working here who can’t find the money to pay for a hotel in Jamaica to go and spend some time after work and so on’,” explained Earle.
He said for the last 19 years he has spread the word about the initiative in his newspaper — Caribbean Voice — and his radio programme, Hot Talk.
“It has been a good journey. People want to find the time to take off because they work very hard. …Mr Stewart has laid the foundation… I respect Adam for continuing to push the ball,” said Earle.
Among those on this year’s trip is Dalton Campbell. He has been traveling with the group since its inception and still participates even after he moved from Florida to Georgia.
“I am able to reunite with folks that I know from Florida. I may not see them over the year, but this is a good time to see those folks. We can interact; we can socialise and just have a good five days. I always look forward to this trip and it is really, really worth it,” he said.
“In the US, it’s stressful. It’s work, work, work. Coming here is like therapy; it’s like mental therapy. You’re calm, you can relax and enjoy yourself,” added Campbell who is a registered nurse.
He is already looking forward to next year’s visit.
Text and photo: Anthony Lewis