Media entrepreneur Winthrope "Throp" Wellington, founder of THROP Media, and conceptualiser of the Throp-X Jamaica Investment Conference, is partnering with Valerie Levy and Associates realtor Noel Phillips to deliver a turnkey real estate development in Negril Hills called Suites of Negril.
The initiative, which represents Wellington's first foray into real estate, was announced at the second annual Throp-X Investment Conference being held at Travellers Beach Resort in Negril.
The 'Suites of Negril' concept is that of a modern turnkey development offering luxury and sustainability featuring a resort-style pool, green garden areas, rainwater harvesting, and a grey water system.
With the Throp-X conference delving into investment strategies in Jamaica and the intricacies of real estate acquisition, including guidance on navigating Airbnb rentals amidst upcoming Jamaican gGvernment regulations, the announcement of the project resonated well with the theme of the forum.
"I'm very passionate about Negril and its potential," Wellington expressed regarding the unveiling of the planned development. "I think as a community, we have an opportunity to guide the direction that Negril is going and to impart the trajectory of Negril and Jamaica as a whole."
The resort town was highlighted at the conference for generating 39 per cent of Jamaica's tourism revenue (according to the Ministry of Tourism).
The focus on Airbnb at the event was also underscored by recent reports from Delano Seiveright, a senior strategist and advisor in the tourism ministry, who highlighted that approximately 29 per cent of tourists in Jamaica opt for Airbnb or similar short-term rentals. He noted that Jamaica exhibits one of the highest growth rates in Airbnb stays in the Caribbean, projecting over 10,000 Airbnb rooms and accommodations in the country by 2023.
The rationale for the 'Suites of Negril' development stems from an appreciation of this status quo. While the project is aimed mainly at attracting buyers and residents as well as long-term rentals, Wellington disclosed that a portion of the property will be designated for short-term rentals, including Airbnb.
"The investors here are really looking to get a return on their money and they're looking at whether there's an Airbnb or VRBO [vacation rentals by owner] as an opportunity to make a return on their investment," Wellington explained. "And we want that to be something that is attractive to our partners and our potential investors."
Targeting the diaspora, remote working expats, and repatriates, the initiative intends to provide accommodations that mirror the standards of the United States, complete with modern amenities sought by discerning individuals seeking a harmonious balance between work and lifestyle, especially in the post-pandemic era.
Wellington expressed that the attractiveness of the project is bolstered by positive developments in Negril in recent years as well as the prospect of further infrastructure development.
"I think it's important to really understand and bring context to the situation, and really just understand where Negril is coming from and even where Negril was five or seven years ago," he said.
Wellington suggests that a shift occurred as the private sector and foreign investors began to understand and appreciate Negril's value, perceiving it as a small gem with numerous opportunities for growth and development.
"My personal observation is that I noticed after the financial crisis, there were so many turnovers, so much turnover of property ownership and management, particularly hotel property ownership and management in Negril," he related. "And what you started to see happen was [there were] more and more foreign-owned and managed hotels in Negrilâ€¦And then what I think happened is those hotels started to do well and investors started to do well and more people started looking at Negril."
The businessman notes a growing trend where individuals, especially those from the 70s and 80s, now boomers, have developed a strong emotional connection with Negril. Many, including both non-Jamaicans and Jamaicans, are expressing a desire to move and live in the area.
According to Wellington, the majority of Negril's guests, particularly travellers and teachers, are repeat visitors who have fallen in love with the location. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this sentiment, with an increasing number of people actively seeking opportunities to buy property, find long-term rentals, or retire in Negril.
Welcoming infrastructure developments such as a new beach park, hospital, the planned transformation of the Negril aerodrome into an international airport, and the soon to be opened 1,000-room Princess Resorts hotel, he also lauded the prospect of the Montego Bay bypass which is anticipated to extend past the bottlenecks of Hopewell and Lucea all the way to Negril.
"Once you're interconnecting a country, there's opportunity there," he enthused. "Imagine we have that where you can live in Negril and work in Montego Bay, 45 minutes, and people are used to doing commutes, maybe even longer commutes than that. So it really opens up this side of the island."
"And the one thing with Negril that I hope is created with all these wonderful things between the highway, between the airport, between the new hospital that we have, between the new hotel and all this investment is that I hope we really start focusing on building a community more than anything else and attracting people, especially attracting young people to come to Negril," he added.
Regarding considerations for Negril to become its own municipality, Wellington sees that as an opportunity to shape its own destiny, providing the community with more control over its affairs.
He insists that the positive developments and encouraging prospects on the horizon are providing the ingredients for Negril's transformation and projects like 'Suites of Negril' can be the catalyst.
"I'm convinced we have to build housing for people to live first and once those people have a comfortable place to live then the commerce will come, then the entrepreneurs will come, but we have to have a place for them to live in order to kind of get that ball rolling," Wellington said.
His enthusiasm was echoed by Phillips, the experienced realtor in the partnership, who remarked, "People are always looking for real estate opportunities, and we believe Negril is the next frontier."