Sat in our London offices I looked out over the drizzle that was falling onto the concrete below. The open window allowed a little cool air to waft in as the phone connected with the voice on the other end. The voice on the other end sounded sunny, smiley and warm. A million miles away from the position I found myself in. “How is the weather over there?” Beamed the patently joyful voice. “Probably not as good as the weather over in Jamaica hey?!!” I joked back. The voice on the other side of the world basking in warmer climes was that of Mary Phillips the GM of the world famous, and deservedly so, Jamaica Inn. CTN has this exclusive interview by Ben Kilbey.Mary, it turned out, had actually resided in the UK (flipping between Birmingham and London) for some seven years when, it was reported, she was ‘much younger.’ Mary understood what the weather could offer and it was for that reason (well at least one) that she had moved back to Jamaica. Whilst in the UK Mary had studied at Warwickshire University and had been a tennis coach, “and let me tell you back in those days things were a lot less stressful” she quipped.
Mary has been with the Jamaica Inn for two and a half years. “I love it, it is a beautiful property, very comfortable, where you come to get away from it.” Mary feels that she is blessed to have worked with what she, and many others consider, the two best properties in Jamaica. Before Jamaica Inn Mary was with Round Hill for 11 years.
Business is a little slower then what it was during the same point last year, but things are picking up. The problem appears to be that weddings take over the entire hotel/resort. “It will need to empty out before it can fill up again.” Mary informs me. Weddings, it would seem, are hard work taking up all of Jamaica Inns resources. The property does not really need them - it can fill its beds far easier with its trusted repeat visitors. “We are blessed that we do not need to fill our rooms with weddings.”
Weddings may be infrequent but as I speak to Mary that is exactly what is going on. I probe to whether it is a famous face, or a celebrity, Mary’s lips remain tightly sealed on that matter. However, her response is quick and precise. “Everybody that stays here is a celebrity.” I laugh. “Seriously, I feel honoured to be gifted with such beautiful guests. Really honoured to have such great guests. Here we have tremendous repeat guests - and every year they are getting younger and younger.”
Mary relishes in this fact the guests are decreasing in age. “Every year they get younger and younger. It is great. Eventually the older guests will die out - it happens to everyone - the younger guests are the new generation. They will be the new repeat guests coming back for another 40 years.” When you look at it like that it makes perfect sense.
So where are these guests coming from? “We have quite a few UK guests which is great, but at the moment we are getting an increase in US visitors. To be honest the UK market use to be a lot stronger - really I don’t know what has happened to it? All I can say is that we are thankful to the US market. The British market really could be so much stronger, and that’s not just here, we are hearing the same all over the island.”
I interject that perhaps this is why the JTB has instigated a new marketing drive in the UK only recently. Mary feels that it is the press that may have assisted the decline in UK arrivals to the beautiful ‘Zion.’
“I really wish the British press would give us a little break. They have been incredibly vicious to Jamaica - and it is just not warranted.” Mary’s tone remains as blissful as it has throughout but you can sense a feeling of anguish and disillusionment. For all of my visits to Jamaica I have found nothing but beauty served by beautiful people. That’s not to say it isn’t without its problems, but isn’t every land?
“I am not kidding,” breaks Mary, “I am not kidding but I have spoken to people who in the past have been sceptical about coming to Jamaica - but once they get here they say that they will not go anywhere else!”
For the record, Jamaica is the third-largest English-speaking Caribbean island at 4,244 square miles (10,991 square kilometres); the island is 146 miles (235 kilometres) long, with widths varying between 22 miles (35 kilometres) and 51 miles (82 kilometres). Almost one half of this mountainous island is over 1,000 feet (305 meters) above sea level. Blue Mountain Peak is the highest point at 7,402 feet (2,256 meters). Mary speaks with passion about the beautiful isle.
“Jamaica has a spirit, and energy unlike any other country in the Caribbean. It is not just a sandbank. To respect the people you need to understand the culture - there is a zest for life, a love for life unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Jamaica Inn is currently undergoing a minor face-lift. Following the closure (of the tourism industry) induced by the recent hurricane activity the Inn decided to batten down the shutters and get on with some restoration work. There will be two new one-bedroom suites resulting from the conversion of two two-bedroom cottages. There will be one White Suite with its own pool which is, by all accounts, “amazing, really amazing. Even looking at it in its unfinished state, at its bare essentials, it blows everybody away.”
Next came my favourite quote by far. “It’s a wow. It is it’s a wow!” The Jamaica Inn can look forward to a successful winter season looking ‘better then ever.’ It is suggested that that is a “very nice thing to look forward to.”
So with such an abundance of natural beauty and a fantastic property it isn’t surprising the Jamaica Inn has had some great write ups and received one or two awards. One award that Mary is most proud of is the Customer Satisfaction accolade awarded by one of the US’s premier luxury tour operators Classic Custom Vacations. “Every hotel in the world wants this award, who would not want to make their guests happy? This award meant great deal to me and the staff. We are very proud indeed. We shall continue to grow and become even better in the future.”
Mary is always keen to promote the fact that no matter what Jamaica Inn and its staff will never rest on its Laurels and will always strive to get even better. No matter how many awards the property will continue to strive to be one of the best in the world.
However there is another award that appears to create a stir. When prompted on how it felt to be nominated at this years World Travel Awards there came a buoyant well flavoured reaction, “Tremendous, tremendous, tremendous.” The phone almost leaped from my ear. “I would say this is like the Academy Awards for the travel industry and, even if we do not win but I hope we do, it will be a pleasure, an honour, to be amongst such an elite group of people.”
Jamaica Inn enjoyed an incredibly successful summer, one that they could hardly believe themselves. The property was 65-70 percent full and this was interpreted as the properties best summer on record. Part of the reason for this success was the KiYara Spa which, according to Mary, “compliments Jamaica exceptionally.”
The spa is simple, “simply the best” says the enthusiastic General Manager. “The spa is very understated. The name from Arawak (Jamaica’s first natives) translates as ‘home of earth spirit.’ The only problem we can document is that the guests fall to sleep before their treatment has even begun, it’s that relaxing.”
The spa is one of the key attractions at the hotel and its appeal can be put down to the fact that people are working harder and harder and need to unwind and relax. Speaking of the Spa Director Carolyn Jobson Mary explained; “she has healing hands. Honestly I am not kidding. Carolyn is the only person that I will let carry out a massage on me, she is wonderful.”
Jamaica Inn is a wonderful hotel full of old world charm (so I am lead to believe from the guests that I have spoken to in the past) It is a magical glimpse at the way tourism used to be on Marley’s Zion, but what is it that really sets the world renowned property apart from the rest?
“We are different in the fact that we are very old world,” enthuses the charismatic Mary Phillips. “We are old world with a twist which means we are very exciting. The new blood that is passing through our doors creates something special. Something new. You know what though, the thing that really makes us different, and what I get most comment on, is our staff.” She continues, “My staff make me proud every day. Some days I want to kill them but we are all only human, still they are amazing. They are very supportive, sometimes it makes me want to cry, They work so hard and I get all of the praise, in truth it is really them, they are wonderful.”
The General Manager finished up by reading a recent comment in the guest book; ‘Your staff look so happy and content to want to make me happy and content.” You cannot ask for more then that.
Mary Will be in London in November for World Travel Market. Whilst here she will be promoting her brand new brochure featuring images taken by David Massey.
Massey also works on Jamaica Inn’s website which will be restructured shortly to increase interactivity and usability.
For more information on Jamaica Inn visit: www.jamaicainn.com
For more information on WTM visit: www.worldtravelmart.co.uk