JAKES Hotel and Jack Sprat principal Jason Henzell believes that Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, has done a fantastic job in promoting eco-tourism, agrotourism and community tourism in Jamaica.
However, he willingly admits that the community by itself could not do this without the parish's complementary attractions and calendar of events that add value to the community's tourism product.
“I think we have done an exemplary job and there are many reasons for that. One is, the region has a higher rate of people living in their own homes and on family property when compared to most of Jamaica. The other factor is that it's the breadbasket parish so everyone does a little farming, whether crops or livestock or both,” he told Jamaica Observer.
The business owner also highlighted that in addition to having a history of hospitality, 100 per cent of the staff members who work at hotels, villas, restaurants and bars, are local.
While sitting on the porch of one of Jakes Hotel's suites, watching the sunset and listening to the crash of waves, Henzell pointed out that Treasure Beach became a popular haunt in 1941 when some citizens of Mandeville went in search of beaches and discovered the community, as well as Alligator Pond. “So this year the community celebrates 80 years in hospitality,” he added.
Over the years, hotels and villas in the community began offering yoga and wellness retreats and mountain biking experiences, among other services that incorporate local fishermen who transport tourists along Black River. In recent times, tourists have added the over-the-sea Floyd's Pelican Bar to their itinerary, willing to pay US$15 dollars for a 20-minute boat to the Parrottee Bay hot spot.
Lashings Beach Club owner David Folb and 77 West founder Annabelle Todd agree that Floyd's has added value to the community's product and shared their own experiences of guests eager to pay a visit to the bar. Todd remembers backpackers from Europe enquiring about both Black River and Floyd's.
“There is a corridor that [tourists] can go through, including Pelican Bar,” Folb, an English expat, told the Business Observer. “You're looking at the sea, you're looking at the people, and it's beautiful.”
He further described the over-the-sea bar as “one of the most outstanding tourist attractions in Jamaica. I can't think of any place that is more mesmerising than that; and we also have YS Falls, which is pretty good, and Appleton Rum Tour.”
Like his companions, he admits that not everyone will enjoy these experiences. However, he pointed out that he has witnessed Jamaicans who now live in big, cosmopolitan cities reacquainting themselves with such attractions and the culture.
Back at Jakes Hotel, Henzell admits, “...St Elizabeth is blessed with a lot of attractions.”
He is, however, saddened by the closure of Lover's Leap, a historic attraction outside Treasure Beach that his family owned business began operating some four years ago and in which significant investments were made in upgrading the property. Though the attraction did well, the pandemic has since halted business there.
“Since the reopening of the borders, which was in July last year, we tried to reopen Lovers' Leap on three occasions and, unfortunately, the business has not been there,” Henzell explained, adding that he hopes it will reopen by December.
St Elizabeth is also home to Apple Valley Park in Maggotty and Jamaica Zoo in Lacovia.
Jakes Hotel has also become an attraction itself, hosting events like the biennial Calabash International Literary Festival and the eponymous Jake's Off-Road Triathlon — both of which have been cancelled since the pandemic. The hotel operator explained that the events not only brought in business for hotels and villas but also for fishermen and taxi drivers.
Todd also spoke to the benefits of the events to the community's economy.
“Well, Calabash Literary Festival is a highlight of not just Treasure Beach but of Jamaica. It's quite a phenomenal event, to be honest [and]... you cannot get a cupboard to sleep in if you don't book two years in advance” she reminisced.
“The restaurants do well, boat tours do well, transportation does well, the farmers do well.”
But a recent encounter with a carwash operator, who complained of not seeing US dollars in a while, gave Todd far more appreciation of the events' impact on the community.
“Well, when those two events occur we are solidly booked,” she shared.