Apart from the thrill of visiting the awe-inspiring all-inclusive hotel resorts and spas during my coverage of the recent JAPEX [Jamaica Product Exchange] 2017 in Montego Bay, the one thing that resonated with me in a major way was the authentic Jamaican experience.
There was no doubt that I was in Jamaica. I vividly recall, for example, the unpretentious Jamaican accent proudly flowing from the lips of the taxi drivers when they sought to engage a visitor, the wide availability of the island’s various brands of indigenous foods such as the jerk pork and jerk chicken and ackee and salt fish, the ever-present vibes of home-grown internationally-recognized reggae music and the abundance of images celebrating the memory of that country’s iconic musical ambassador Bob Marley.
One is also led to feel that it is very Jamaican to hear citizens unapologetically boasting that they have the fastest man on the planet and being the number one tourist destination in the world. Those are the unique things about Jamaica. And to place the icing on the cake – although not a unique feature as it is shared with other Caribbean countries – Jamaicans are very welcoming and warm.
It may however shock most Barbadians to learn that Jamaica has private beaches, particularly created for the all-inclusive hotel resorts. And even more shocking – to Bajans – is that there are some “public” beaches where potential sea bathers have to pay a fee to enjoy. The private beaches, though, are evidently meant to create that extra special hassle-free, relaxing, serene “world” where a visitor who pays big bucks to stay at a luxury resort, does not have to worry about their privacy and enjoyment being invaded by unwelcome “guests”.
Spare a moment therefore and consider JAPEX. It is the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association’s (JHTA) premier trade event and the single most important business generator for Jamaica’s tourism industry. In two days of pre-scheduled appointments, wholesalers, tour operators and travel agents meet face to face with close to 200 of Jamaica’s leading tourism suppliers to conduct business negotiations.
Since its 1990 inception, JAPEX is presented by the JHTA in association with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). It is supported by every Jamaican organization involved in the development, promotion and sale of the island’s tourism product. The event also includes informative seminars on topical issues, allowing members of the association to garner relevant information to make strategic decisions.
JAPEX is a world of business opportunities, all in one place. The event, which was held this year from September 24 to 26, used the Montego Bay Convention Centre for the official opening and welcome reception, the central location for the supplier products and services to be displayed and the venue for various workshops on issues impacting the industry. But the major sponsoring luxury resorts had to have their day away from the convention centre to show what they had to offer.
Of course, specially invited senior media practitioners from around the world [I represented the Caribbean] were on hand to capture every business and pleasurable moment during the three-day trade event. Apart from Barbados, the team of journalists came from Canada, the USA, Latin America and Europe and all were placed at host resort, the Iberostar Suites at Rose Hall, Montego Bay.
On paper, our itinerary may have seemed like one big pleasure trip. But far from that. It was either tours of luxury resorts or tourist attractions, business events or press conferences every day, several times a day in quick succession, quite often with little time to rest. Yes, we did have generous dashes of fun and excitement with some of Jamaica’s global musical stars like Third World on the beach during the grand opening of Jewel Grande Resort and with Grammy Award winning Shaggy in concert at Jamaica Evening sponsored by Sandals Resorts International at Sandals Montego Bay.
Needless to say, those two events in themselves are enough to lure visitors back to the island for more Jamaican “gold”. Earlier I acknowledged the wide availability of local Jamaican food. At Iberostar, Sandals Montego Bay, Jewel Grande, the Montego Bay Convention Centre and other resorts and tourist attractions such as Chukka Adventure Falls at Good Hope Estate, there was no shortage of indigenous appetizing delectables.
So what JAPEX provides is much more than a product, it is an authentic Jamaican experience that takes into consideration one’s gastronomical cravings, one’s desire for a different cultural delight and accommodation that meets one’s diverse and even wildest fantasies. All of that can be found in the Jamaica experience – within and outside of JAPEX. If I were to single out the one resort that made me feel like finding the money to go back to and lap up the multiple “brands” of hospitality, it would be the Royalton Negril & Hideaway.
Royalton Negril is comprised of three distinct sections or brands, each one unique to the guests’ needs and vacation styles. One can choose from the Resort or Diamond Club sections, or enjoy the ultimate luxury in the adults-only vacation oasis at Hideaway at Royalton Negril. Royalton Negril boasts reservation-free dining at more than six restaurants plus entertainment for any age.
Also high on my list is Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort & Private Island.
The team of journalists left the resort behind on the mainland and took a short guided boat ride to the Sandals Private Island where we toured the over-the-water villas with infinity pools that are serviced by a personal butler and the over-the-water butler honeymoon bungalow.
These villas and bungalows convey an intimate connection with the Caribbean sea . . . from floating water hammocks to private glass floors, where one does not even have to step outside to appreciate the Caribbean’s best crystal clear waters.
And if that is not enough reason to accept the lure which JAPEX provides for visitors, consider a resort with an appropriate name – the Breathless Resort & Spa in Montego Bay. Surrounded by the Montego Bay Marine Park, it is a modern five-storey adults-only, 150-suite resort, boasting chic design and state-of-the-art technology, where over half of the suites include butler service.
Guests have full access to all the amenities at sister properties Secrets Wild Orchid and Secrets St James next door, including 18 additional dining and bar options.
But what is life without some adventure or eating one’s food directly from the farm? Let’s start with the adventure. The official opening of Chukka Caribbean Adventure Falls provided us with the ideal opportunity to sample what was on offer. It was night and we were also on our way to cover the official opening, so we did not plunge into the world of adventure. Suffice it to say, we were informed that those who are bold enough, could soar through the jungle rain-forest on the extreme zip-lines, step aboard the catamaran cruise for the ultimate party experience and climb the magnificent Dunn’s River Falls.
One also has the option to relax beach-side or try one of the new pools or snorkel a stunning reef alongside stingrays. It is also the place to go tubing down a river or through a mysterious limestone cave. One of the final places of interest we visited, was the Zimbali Retreats, a farm-to-table cook out spot, hidden among hundreds of fruit trees and other lush tropical vegetation several miles off the beaten track. Described by the owners as a real rasta experience, the journey to the Zimbali Retreats “five star” wooden accommodation meanders along a seemingly endless winding rocky track, sandwiched by flora.
Just 25 minutes from Negril, we stepped into the mountains of the seven- acre organic farm located in a real farming community. This fertile mountain valley has a 300-plus year history as some of the most prized land in Jamaica. Here, the people are friendly, the food and water are natural and life is as it has always been, we are told.
As we sat and watched our lunch cooked before our eyes, it is from here that Zimbali delivered a true cultural and dining experience “unrivaled” in Jamaica.
Zimbali has created a “mountain cooking studio”- where dining is more than just taste, but a true sharing experience. Chef ‘Obrian’ was on stage as he prepared our meal using the foods and fruits of the season, grown right there on the farm.
Surprisingly, we got a very tasty special gluten-free chocolate cake and steamed fish in banana leaf with fresh grated coconut. Auntie Ms. Dee also delighted us with her fresh juice sensation. I never thought I would say this, but thanks to the JHTA and the JTB, Jamaica – and Montego Bay – must be top of your list for your next vacation.