KINGSTON – Sandals Resorts International says it will this year begin reconstruction of the old Dragon Bay hotel in Portland, transforming it into a 157-suite six-star boutique family resort at a cost of US$100 million.
“That will be our 12th hotel investment in Jamaica,” Sandals Deputy Chairman and CEO Adam Stewart told guests attending last Friday’s groundbreaking of a US$50-million hotel and BMW/MINI complex in St Andrew, spearheaded by Sandals, ATL, Marriott International and BMW.
“It’s not going to be a Beaches or Sandals. It’s going to be a brand new brand,” said Stewart, whose father Gordon is the founder and chairman of Sandals and Beaches Resorts and the ATL Group, which includes the Jamaica Observer.
“This has been a lifelong dream for my dad in particular,” said the younger Stewart whose father yesterday praised him for “doing a great, great job in leading the [ATL Group’s] motor car division”.
“Dragon Bay has been a long time in coming. The reason we’re doing it is a commitment made by the prime minister and Minister [Daryl] Vaz to make the Ian Fleming International Airport truly accessible to commercial jet aircraft. That was the commitment that we needed, to make Portland accessible, and true to our word, now that that project is happening, Dragon Bay will happen,” the younger Stewart said.
The Sandals group formally acquired Dragon Bay Beach Resort on March 22, 2002 from the former owners Albert Abela Corporation and SSI Cayman Limited.
However, poor roads and the inadequacy of the Ken Jones Aerodrome have resulted in Sandals placing a hold on developing the property. The elder Stewart had long argued that the poor infrastructure in the parish was incompatible with the quality product that is planned for Dragon Bay.
Over the years, the Government got the main road leading from Ocho Rios to Portland fixed. Then in 2009 the Boscobel Aerodrome in St Mary was renovated and renamed the Ian Fleming International Airport.
However, the runway needed expanding to allow smaller commercial jets to use the airport, a move that industry analysts argue would drive more tourist traffic to Portland, St Mary and Ocho Rios.
Last September, the Government announced that the runway would be expanded, a decision that has found favour with the elder Stewart, who had long argued that bigger regional jet aircraft of between 55 and 100 seats, such as flown by American Airlines, Air Canada, USAIR, JetBlue, and Delta, need a minimum of 5,700 to 6,000 feet of runway, compared to the existing 4,780 feet at Ian Fleming.
Yesterday, he told the Jamaica Observer that “with the new airport planned at Boscobel to take jets, our plans are now in high speed”.
He said the Dragon Bay resort will provide up to 800 jobs in the construction phase and just over 500 permanent positions when it is up and running.
Stewart and his team project that the resort’s guests and staff will consume more than 2,000 meals daily, therefore local farmers will benefit as they will be included in the hotel’s linkages purchasing programme.
The resort, he pointed out, will also provide income-generating opportunities for transport operators, tour companies, and attraction owners.
“In that part of the world, which is just glorious, we would hope to sell a huge number of tours, between rafting on the Rio Grande, Nonsuch Caves, the multiple shopping tours and all the other land and water attractions,” the elder Stewart said.
“A lot of Jamaicans are familiar with the old Dragon Bay. It’s a precious site, unrivalled anywhere in the world,” Stewart said. “We really think it will bring a huge amount of benefit to the region and we are looking to add a few luxury villas to the property.”
He said the new hotel “is going to be unique in every way” and pointed out that “Sandals has led the all-inclusive industry with innovation after innovation that have been a treasure chest for competitive brands”.
He pointed to a long list of innovations, among them swim-up bars, swim-up rooms, speciality restaurants and wrap-around swim-up pool bars.
“Going as far back as the early 80s we were the first in this hemisphere to put hairdryers in the hotel bedrooms,” Stewart said. “Innovations are going to be part and parcel of Dragon Bay. It will be the introduction of a brand new concept.”
Added Stewart: “Dragon Bay will be the pride of Portland and the anchor for all future resorts to come to Portland. This is Sandals Resorts’ most beautiful real estate and it will be our best work ever.”