Ben Kilbey in London
There is a man in the Caribbean who is some what a legend. A man so influential yet so grounded that he inspires others to attempt to achieve what he has over his long and illustrious career. This man goes by the name of Chris Blackwell, and when this name is mentioned across the region, and especially Jamaica, ears prick up. The reason? Chris is an inspiration, he has been the driving force behind many great projects in the region; just take a glimpse at his Island Outpost properties spread across Jamaica and the Bahamas (Pink Sands, The Caves, Golden Eye, Jakes etc.) These are properties of distinction, prestige but above all uniqueness. Quite simply some of the greatest properties in the world. How does he manage it? The philosophy is quite simple; The Island Outpost philosophy is to provide guests with distinct places that share a common sensibility or aesthetic that makes them appealing to a certain kind of person. The company is committed to creating a unique, personal, relaxed experience- places where one can put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the world. After recently picking up a Life Time Achievement Award Caribbean Travel News met up with Chris to discuss the business, his outlook and what he never leaves home without.
CTN: Well done on your life time achievement award. What does an award like this mean to you?
Chris Blackwell: The lifetime achievement award is usually given to somebody who has spent most of their working life in that specific industry, in my case most of my working life has been spent in the entertainment business, so I am really honoured to have been given this award for the travel and hospitality industry. For me it means a vote of confidence and encouragement.
How do you respond to compliments such as this by Jamaica’s Minister of
Tourism in a recent interview with us;
“You know, I think we have been blessed to have people such as Chris Blackwell who have Jamaican connections, in Chris’s case more than Jamaican connections, and who have decided that they are going to invest in Jamaica. Right now Chris has sold some properties abroad to invest in Goldeneye and other projects, I am very excited about this.”
I love Jamaica and Jamaicans and view whatever success I have achieved to be grounded in Jamaica so I want to utilise the contacts and relationships I have developed over the years to bring attention to the uniqueness of the country and the people. I can best do that by trying to create, or help others to create, special places that people can visit, stay and perhaps put down roots and contribute to the economic growth of the country even in a small way.
When did you first realise that Island Outpost was what you desired to succeed in accompanying your dreams and ultimately gaining a sense of great achievement? What is it that sets your properties aside from the rest; obviously it isn’t just the décor and amenities to you, is it?
When I decided to sell Island Records I started Island Outpost even though from many years before I had been acquiring special properties with this in mind. All of our resorts have been developed on a fraction of the available land, I am now embarking on stage two where there will be cottage houses and apartments available for sale it takes me a lot of time to ‘feel’ the land and make sure that what is special about it is not compromised.
How often would you say you are out on the road and when you are what is it that you just cannot leave home without?
A cell phone - It enables me to be available from anywhere in the world and I can constantly be in touch so I don’t have a backlog of work when I arrive somewhere.
Owing the fact that most of your time on the road is down to business how often do you get to travel for pleasure and when you do where in the world is your favourite get-a-way?
I enjoy my work very much. I am very lucky in that respect so they both merge. My favourite get-a-way is my home in the hills in Jamaica.
I have read previous interviews where you talk of ‘aggressively’ utilising the internet, can you explain a little of what this means to you and how important the internet is to global marketing for I.O?
The Internet allows you to have your own ‘cable channel’. It allows you to reach the world and the world to be able to ‘visit’ your proprieties from their armchair and hopefully decide to visit in person.
Do you think technology such as virtual tours really are altering the way in which the viewing/paying public are deciding on where to travel? Or do you feel that too few people are aware of the available technology?
We have found that most of our guests have checked out the resorts on the website, made their decision, and then made their booking through their travel agent.
What projects do you have in the pipeline? Where is next for I.O? Is it true that you have sold some properties to concentrate on the Jamaican market, would you say this is your Zion?
We were very involved at the beginning of the rebirth of South Beach Miami. It was very exciting and fun but my main purpose in starting I.O was to develop the properties in Jamaica and the Bahamas and expand in the Caribbean. The only way to really focus on that was to dispose of the Miami properties.
As the man behind Island Records you launched many a famous face to the world, without you perhaps the legendary Bob Marley would not be quite the monolith that he is to this day. I guess you will repute this claim but you really have altered that face of music over the last 30 years. How was it to be in the Company of such greats as Bob? Have individuals such as this influenced the way in which you lead you life and the ethos that you impose on your business model?
I have learnt whatever I know from my associations and relationships with the people I have worked with over the years. I left school at fifteen having not done too well. In the case of Bob Marley, I met him at a time when Island Records was considered perhaps the most exciting independent company in the world in rock music; we had Cat Stevens, Crimson Traffic, Free Mot, The Hoople Emerson Lake, Palmer and many others. As a Jamaican I understood him and his music and knew how to help him reach his audience.
Where in the world would you really love to set up an I.O?
Other than the Caribbean I would like to do something in Mexico on the Sea of Cortez.
Which of the properties would you say is your ultimate favourite
Strawberry Hill, as a friend of mine said about it once; “Well if this aint heaven it’s only a local call away!”
How important do you feel the spa market is to the future of the Caribbean, and ultimately, global travel trends?
Very important. We have one at the Caves, Strawberry Hill and are building a Thalassotherapy Spa as part of the expansion of Golden Eye and we will have one at Pink Sands in the Bahamas shortly too.
Describe, from your own point of view, what makes the ultimate hotel room - and for your competitors what should every hotel room have?
A warm and comforting feel with a well stocked mini bar and a great view!
What is it that determines a great trip for you?