'This was a scam'

St James man raises concerns after spending night at Portland hotel

Observer staff reporter

Monday, February 12, 2018

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WHEN Andrew McCarthy made reservations for Fern Hill Club in Port Antonio, Portland, in December, he was not aware that the hotel had closed more than four years ago.

McCarthy, who is originally from St James, said that as someone who travels “regularly”, he always used the site Booking.com to make accommodation arrangements, “as the site has always proved to be reliable”.

However, after visiting the address listed for the property on the website, he said he realised that he had been scammed.

Last Monday, the Jamaica Tourist Board confirmed with the Jamaica Observer that the hotel was not recorded as operational and that it was not on its licensing list, but it would make further checks.

The man, in a two-page letter to the Observer, said that he booked a room at the hotel for one night (December 29). He said that it was otherwise difficult for him to get a room elsewhere due to the busy holiday season, and noted that Fern Hill was the only option available for a room that houses three people.

“I relied on the photos of the pool and the exterior of the property. The Booking.com site had only two reviews, as the location was added to its room inventory on the fifth of December. The reviews were rated 10 and seven, out of a possible 10. I made the booking, with the thought that Portland rooms are not usually the most comfortable, but expected the hotel to have the basic conveniences,” McCarthy said.

He said that he called the number on the reservation, which indicated that “Johnny” would answer any queries a few days before the date of stay, to confirm he and his guests were still expected. He said that the trio left Montego Bay after work and arrived at the place at 10:00 pm.

“The driveway to the hotel was approximately one kilometre past Goblin Hill Villas on Mile Gully Road. The road had not been bushed for a long time and was difficult to traverse. When we arrived at the hotel there was almost a total absence of exterior lighting, and Johnny met us with a flashlight. At this point we knew that something was wrong, but [we] also knew that it would be impossible to find another room at this time of night in the holiday season and that the other option was to sleep in the car, so we decided to stay for the night,” he said.

According to him, the lighting in the room was poor and he had to request nails to keep the old wooden shutters closed, as most of the latches were broken. The man said that he paid Johnny the agreed rate for the night which was US$99 and was offered a welcome drink, which, he said, was a small bottle of rum cream. Added to that, he said that the bathroom smelt of sewage, which he theorised was probably due to bad plumbing, so the group decided not to chance taking a shower.

The interior of the bathroom cupboards, he further said, were termite-infested, rotted and had construction material, while the beds smelt mouldy and the room was in need of cleaning. Additionally, he stated that during the night, he heard a sound in the bathroom and saw a huge rat on a glue trap.

“We checked out at first light, 7:00 am, and took a few photos of the property. The one photo that I missed was the pool, which was green and had debris. The pool was located just below where Johnny stayed, and I didn't want to intrude. The dilapidated condition of the property was confirmed when we looked around in the morning, and it was obvious that this was a scam. I realised later that Fern Hill was still operating up to four years ago, and the majority of photos that were on the site were from that period,” he said.

“I then wrote six Internet booking sites, including Booking.com, to inform them of the fraud being perpetrated and the risk to their guests. I only received two responses, one from Lonely Planet, who stated that they rely on the judgement of Booking.com, and a response from Booking.com offering me a refund of US$50, which I refused... I then wrote local authorities, including Jamaica Tourist Board, NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency), public health, Office of the Mayor of Port Antonio, Member of Parliament for Portland Western Daryl Vaz, Port Antonio Tax Department, and Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association. I received a few email responses in the first week, but nothing in the last three. The property, meanwhile, continues to receive bookings.”

However, Vaz, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, with responsibility for the land, environment, climate change and investment portfolios, said that he did not receive a letter from McCarthy, but that if one is re-sent he would investigate.

“If you review the amenities and features of the hotel, it appears to be the 'best value' in Portland. Many visitors who turn up here will not have a choice... and will be forced to stay. It is far from the main road with no security or lighting, and the abandoned structures on the property probably hold many dangers, particularly the 'green' swimming pool,” McCarthy added.

The Observer tried contacting the hotel through the number listed, but was unsuccessful.

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