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Interview: Horace Peterkin, GM Sandals Montego Bay

Sandals Montego Bay, the place where it all started. Tne birth-place of the most successful All-Inclusive chain in the world. Winners of the prestigious World Travel Awards 10 years in a row. It would seem unstoppable in it`s field of entertainment. Caribbean Weekly took time out to catch up with the resorts GM Horace Peterkin to discuss business and find out how bad the repoted riots in Jamaica really were.
1) How is tourism in Jamaica at present? Caribbean Weekly was recently at the CTC-26 on St. Thomas. Here we met with the new tourism board, particularly Donnie Dawson, and heard many good things that are in store for the Caribbean Island. What are you feelings on the new tourism board and are you happy that things are beginning to change on the island.

HP: The Caribbean is experiencing mixed results with growth well in double digits in some of the Spanish islands, namely Cuba & Dom Rep (but at relatively cheap rates). Jamaica is in the middle with a modest 6-7% increase, yet others have actually declined. The Caribbean Hotel Association`s website would have up to date stats. The new Tourist Board is definitely a lot more effective than the outgoing one. The new chairman (Dennis Morrison) is far more hands on and involved in the fundamental decisions and actions. He listens to the industry and tries to implement strategies to deal with our needs speedily. The new Director Paul Pennicooke coming from the industry understands our challenges and needs particularly in the area of marketing, which now is vastly more timely and effectively executed. The rationalisation and reorganisation of the JTB (including closing some offices and moving towards more effective use of the internet) has yielded substantial savings and improved efficiency. It can only get better.

2) One raging question at the conference was that of the proposed taxation on the cruise industry. It has been proven that the cruise
industry has been beneficial for the island of Jamaica (Cruise Sector Boosts Jamaican Tourist Figures) what are your views on the subject, do you feel that it is a fair notion?

HP: The Cruise Industry, as presently operated, is deleterious to Caribbean tourism. Basically they operate with huge advantages (lower cost per berth/room to start with; tax free/duty free inputs (food, beverage, fuel and all other materials vs. the hotels which pay massive taxes and duties on everything) - which allows them to sell their vacations at much lower prices and still have money left over to carry out massive marketing campaigns to lure tourists away from our hotels and instead to their ships. Of course they use our beautiful islands and attractions to promote very attractive multi destination cruises, yet and they pay extremely little for this facility and for using the ports that cost enormous sums of money to build and maintain. They badger the local Tours/Attraction companies to give them very cut rates (way below what we are charged). Of course they vigorously resist any talk of increased port fees, as they do not want to give up any of their multi-billion dollar net profit. I believe there should be one Caribbean Cruise Council that the Cruise Industry would have to deal with. The Council would set meaningful fees which they would have to pay everywhere and they could not divide and rule the individual territories as they do now. At present they simply stop landing at any island that decides to increase fees. In addition they should be made to purchase local products from islands that have the facilities to supply the required items. Then we may have fair competition.

The alternative would be for the Governments to cut out all duties and taxes on our (hotel) industry, thus putting us on a level playing field with the cruise industry. The choice is clear to me.


3) How do you feel the departure of Joey Issa from Sandals biggest
rival SuperClubs, effected the whole all-inclusive game/make-up?

HP: Not much!

4) What is your market-share of UK visitors? The same question for European and American figures?

HP: 80%/US; 6-8%/UK; 2% EU.

5) What, in your view, sets the island of Jamaica apart from other
Caribbean islands?

HP: So many things. The magnificence of the land (the rivers, waterfalls, magestic mountains, the awesome natural beauty). The built facilities: great houses, attractions, variety of hotels and guest houses. The pulsation music and dynamic culture and cuisine. Most importantly the bold, confident, outgoing, friendly nature of the people, which translates into vibrant, brilliant service to our clients. That why we have one of the highest repeat factors in the world (approaching 50%).

6) Do you feel that the marketing campaign: `Life Needs the Caribbean` has been a success? Is it right to market the Caribbean as one
destination or are the regions too diverse to carry out such a marketing campaign?

HP: There is some degree of success. It makes total sense to pool our resources to give the region a bigger “share of voice”, then we can do individual marketing to attract the clients (who are now turned on to the Caribbean), to our individual properties. Because of our diversity we can actually provide multi-destination vacation options or the reason for clients to travel back to the islands year after year to experience our different offerings (food, culture, history, cuisine, music etc).

7) How important are expos such as WTM (London), in getting UK attention focused on the Caribbean region?

HP: Extremely important. Staying away is not an option if we are serious about even maintaining our market share. Those who plan properly and do good product presentations will get incrimental business.

8) How much of a soft target do you feel the Caribbean is in light of the current world climate? Everybody says that the Caribbean is a safe haven, same as they said of Bali. How much effect would such a catastrophe have on the region? (Lose of land based and cruise based tourism). Do you feel the Caribbean would be resilient enough to pull back from such a terrible act? (God Forbid).

HP: Hopefully we will be spared. Yes we are exposed as we are not military states and do not have “Israeli-style” security systems in place ....and even there the terrorist can strike as they please. However, I do believe we are less likely to be a target as there are far many more enticing ones with easy access for the terrorists. Likewise it is not likely that they would be able to get the type of local collaberation to set up operations that easily here. However, we are all aware of what we must do to be on the look out and have implimented (quiet) measures to minimise the risk at the resorts.9) How badly did the recent riots effect business - how much effect do you feel this will have on tourism to the island? (Riots in Jamaica following alleged `Cold Blooded` shooting)

HP: There certainly was no rioting. The citizens demonstrated their displeasure at the killing of two of their members (in what seems to have been a mistake by the police). Yes they did block the roadway with debris and lit some old tires and old derelict vehicles. But no one was hurt, no tour buses or cars were set upon in any way as the media erroneously claimed. Visitors were inconvenienced on the Saturday as no traffic could pass via that bottle neck roadway to the airport. Alternate routes were used over the hills and by boat. Some people even had fun with it! One of my clients we took by boat wants us to use this scenic method of transfer in the future! Lastly top Govt officials met with the community and gave assurances that the matter will be dealt with speedily and fairly and everyone is happy with it. Yes all is well and totally back to normal. Paradise is surely not lost!!

10) Do you `out-source` all of your excursions or are some handled

HP: We have our own tour desk and contract directly with the attractions which number over 180 among our resorts. Yes we vigorously market these wonderful attractions and most of our guests take two or three such tours.

11) Finally, on a lighter note - where do you see yourself in one year.

HP: I plan to win the lottery and go into semi-retirement as a consultant!

Caribbean Weekly would like to wish Mr. Peterkin the best of luck with the lottery win - remember your friends that`s all we ask!