Locals will maintain stay-at-home vacation trends – experts
LOCAL BOOKING agents in the hotel industry are predicting that Jamaicans will maintain recent trends of vacationing at home, as COVID restrictions are easing in the country and globally.
With borders closed at times and travel grounded to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel industry literally shut down. And, it wasn’t until travel agents and hoteliers started banging heads, working out deals and pushing business heavily towards the local market that things started to turn around.
Locals have since made a habit of spending time in local hotels and experts in the business believe that behaviour will not cease.
“Basically what we’ve realised since the pandemic is a lot of local persons are being attracted to resorts, they’ve been actively booking hotels now. We see an increase in locals booking these hotels for years to come,” said Kareem Lewis, CEO, KML Enterprise, a top local travel agency.
“Jamaica, continue to support the local hotels, continue to support local businesses to continue to help our economy grow,” Lewis urged.
Alessandra Smith-Bailey and her husband, Jason, launched Seventh Heaven Jamaica Travel in July 2020, saying Jamaicans are their “target market”. As it was in the midst of COVID, she noted difficulties. However, she said strategising provided a boost and their target market continues to increase.
CUSTOMER SERVICE DRIVEN
“It (business) was slow because it was right in the middle of COVID and we had to reduce prices a lot. That’s one of the ways we kept afloat. We’re also customer service driven. When customers come to us they feel at home and we talk to them like they’re our friends. We get along really well with our customers and they keep coming back. We don’t really lose customers and we get a lot of referrals,” Smith-Bailey explained.
A long-time player in the business, Judith James-Watts, managing director, Leisure for Pleasure Holidays and Tours Limited, said Jamaicans “kept the business alive”.
“We must commend ourselves for keeping the industry alive, for keeping jobs alive, for keeping business alive. We must thank God that we were able to keep it going,” she said.
“The local market has always been there, always been. Since 9/11 we pivoted into the local market, offering Jamaicans local hotel specials every month,” James-Watts recalls of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which included two airplanes being flown into the twin towers in downtown Manhattan, USA, killing nearly 3,000 people. “And we have built and grown on offering these specials.”
She explained that since COVID they have been negotiating aplenty with hoteliers to boost stay-at-home packages.
“The hotels began to offer some very low rates ... I remember in June 2020, they began offering some great, great discounted rates. The doors began to open and our Jamaicans came on board and they started to visit the hotels,” she said. “That for me was a great move for our people, people who had never been to hotels before knew hotels. People said ‘what great rates’.”
Carol Bourke, general manager of Hilton Rose Hall, a member of the Playa Group Hotels and Resorts, said they have developed a partnership.
“It’s a true partnership. We would say ‘hey, we have the space’, they would say ‘hey, we have an idea, are you interested, do you want to partake in this’, whatever they were doing at the time, because they would create their own programmes and we would be like ‘oh, why not’,” Bourke shared.
“So it was a true partnership, it made the relationship that was already there stronger because there was a lot of one-on-one conversations, so that, we found that this clientele would come from this travel agency, we got groups from another one, it was just a true partnership throughout the time and a great collaboration,” she continued.
Dominic Shaw, owner of Cheap Vacation Travel that has been operating for three years, said the local market will only get bigger.
“The local market is very important for the hotel industry. There are so many hotels that didn’t even look at the local market prior. COVID provided that avenue for them to see the local market as important,” said Shaw. “Tourism is uncertain and to keep it with a certainty, always have a special for the local market.”
Lewis added: “It’s not just going to be just foreigners coming in to enjoy our resorts, but also the locals.”