Caribbean Marketplace preview: John Jefferis, Coco Reef

Caribbean Marketplace preview: John Jefferis, Coco Reef

John Jefferis has forged a career out of creating some of the finest resorts in the Caribbean, and has become one of the region’s most prolific entrepreneurs. As the owner of Coco Reef Resorts, he owns and operates award-winning properties in Tobago and Bermuda, and also has a new project planned in Panama.

He is also chairman and sole shareholder of the Palm Reef Hotel Development Company Limited and Island Resorts International Ltd.

He also runs Café Coco, a 300-seat Caribbean themed restaurant and nightclub in Tobago, and is also the chairman of Inflite Catering, an airline catering company with operations in both Tobago and Bermuda.

He is a past President and Chairman of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and was Chairman of CHTA’s Marketing Committee for six years.

(Coco Reef Tobago - voted “Caribbean’s Leading Hotel” at 2010 World Travel Awards)

BTN: You were voted Caribbean’s Leading Hotel and Tobago’s Leading Resort at 2010 World Travel Awards. What did you do last year to win the recognition of the travel and tourism industry?
JJ: We continued with our policy of focusing on improving our guest experience and finding ways to continually upgrade the resort for our customers. Specifically in 2010, we increased capital expenditure by purchasing new state-of-the-art Cybex Gym equipment and flat screen TVs. Furthermore we continue to focus on guest service which continues to be a matter of great satisfaction and praise by our customers. The only way to win a World Travel Award such as the “Caribbean’s Leading Hotel” is to have an exceptional management team and dedicated staff, whose only focus is to make our clients want to return. Our repeat factor is over 42 percent! There is a sign over the door to our General Managers office: “WE HIRE FOR ATTITUDE – WE TRAIN FOR SKILLS”.

(John Jefferis picks up “Caribbean’s Leading Hotel” at 2010 World Travel Awards; pictured here with Dr. Rupert T. Griffith, Minister of Tourism, Trinidad & Tobago)

BTN: How do you envisage 2011 shaping up?
JJ: 2011 will be even more challenging than 2010. Customers will look for bigger discounts on their holidays. The ridiculous APD tax has already increased the cost of airfares. We will increase our marketing budget for 2011 and do more joint promotions with our tour operators.

(Café Coco, a Caribbean themed restaurant and nightclub in Tobago)

BTN: What are you hoping to achieve at this year’s Caribbean Marketplace?
JJ: It is always good to meet your best customers and strategise for the challenging times ahead. We will also hope to find some new suppliers of business from new markets. We will also use Marketplace as an opportunity to launch our promotional rates for the coming year. CHTA Marketplace is still by far the most important marketing event of the year. 

(Coco Reef: made for romance)

BTN: What has been your strategy for coping with the global downturn? And have you applied different approaches for Coco Reef Tobago and Coco Reef Bermuda?
JJ: Our strategies are will be similar to last year: increased sales and marketing efforts, lower promotional rates, continuing investment to improve the product and a policy of converting every enquiry into a confirmed booking. We never say no!

BTN: How would you like the Coco Reef brand to develop?
JJ: We would like to acquire a few more properties. We are actively pursuing this policy.

(Coco Reef Bermuda - state-of-the-art facilities coupled with unparalleled service and attention from the staff)

BTN: Where do you see the most potential for growth?
JJ: For Tobago, Scandinavia is the best new growth opportunity but only with the introduction of direct air service. It is foolish to try and develop any market without direct flights. For Bermuda the UK market has potential but the focus must be on the eastern seaboard of the United State.

BTN: What do you have planned for your new development in Panama?
JJ: Still working on the development plans, it will be on a private island.

(The pool, Coco Reef Tobago)

BTN: What has been the highlight of your time at Coco Reef Tobago since taking over 20 years ago?
JJ: I started planning the development in 1991! Finally completing the construction of the resort, which I had designed, in 1996 was a really wonderful and satisfying achievement. Another highlight was the recognition by the World Travel Awards’ voters that was bestowed upon Coco Reef when we first won the “Leading Hotel in the Caribbean” award. This was an immensely satisfying accolade. It really was a milestone that has encouraged us to continually raise our standards.