President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Robin Russell has dismissed concerns that locals are now being treated shabbily because foreigners are once again flocking to the country’s shores.
“That is definitely not what is happening! We do treasure our local guests as much as before,” said Russell in responding to a question posed by the Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com during a recent interview.
Tourism players have repeatedly credited locals, who vacationed at home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with helping properties keep their doors open. There was an active campaign to promote staycations, with attractive rates and flexible booking options. Unable to travel abroad for leisure, many locals rediscovered Jamaica and became tourists at home.
Now, as the tourism ministry keeps pointing out, the sector is booming. Its latest forecast for 2023 is that Jamaica’s tourism industry is on track to achieve 11 per cent growth.
As foreigner visitors return in droves, cracking open wallets containing foreign currency worth many times more than the Jamaican dollar, locals are concerned that they will be shunted aside. Among those who have expressed concern is community activist and COO at Reggae Walk of Fame and Museum Ltd, Ras Astor Black. He pointed to the irony of local farmers being encouraged to partner with hotels and resorts yet reportedly faced with hurdles when attempting to stay at some of these properties.
“Most Jamaican farmers who supply hotels with farm produce can only stay away from our farms for a night or two and are now banned from a one-night staycation in upscale hotels that we serve,” Black said in an e-mail sent to the tourism ministry, the JHTA and other major tourism players in late December.
Other locals have noted that previous access to one-night stays have now seemingly dried up for Jamaicans at home.
However, Russell argued that the issue has nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with dollars and cents.
“It’s just one of those policies that have always been with these resorts and they’ve implemented it again. It has nothing to do with Jamaica or Jamaicans,” he said.
It is simply more cost-effective, the JHTA head explained, for properties to offer two-night minimum stays.
“When you stay one day, hotels really don’t make money on that one day because a lot of the stuff in there is replenished. You have to throw away all the tissue, all the soaps, [change] your sheets, your pillowcases. When you stay two days, that is when you start to make money. It is not a local versus a foreign thing. It’s just a policy of a lot of the hotels that it is just not feasible to be operating one-day stays,” he said.
While the focus, as COVID-19 battered the sector, was on keeping their doors open things have now gone back to normal and businesses do what they do: try to be profitable.
“Now, in fairness, during COVID hotels really went above and beyond to just stay open. So it wasn’t about making money. It was really about just being open and allowing staff to operate. Now that we’re back in an environment of profitability, making money, it’s just a policy. And it has nothing to do with Jamaica, or foreigners,” Russell said.
He told LetsTravelCaribbean.com that locals and foreigners are treated equally under the policy, which some properties pursue as a way to protect their bottom line, of shying away from one-night stays. Russell pointed out, however, that some properties do welcome guests who only need to stay with them for one night. One of those is the 92-room Deja Resorts in Montego Bay, where he is the general manager.
“We’re one of the few properties that do one-night stays, because we do a lot of corporate business. And even during the holiday season, we had to do two-nights stays because it was just getting too much. But we’re back to one-night stays,” he said.