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Growing MICE

by Marlon Madden
7 min read

It might be a new kid on the block, but it is already the talk of the town among locals and visitors. It is where business meets pleasure, where the modern mixes with the traditional, and sophistication is all that meets the eye.

Located on approximately six acres of land in New Kingston, Jamaica, the AC Hotel by Marriott was officially opened three months ago, providing the perfect spot for business travellers.

But it goes beyond that. The 219-room accommodation boasts of being the first of its kind on the island to offer stay over guests and walk-ins a lounge experience and ample meeting space for both the fast-paced and more relaxed business executives.

It has also quickly become that hotspot to be on a Friday night, where visitors and locals converge with each other to enjoy popular cocktails and a mixture of local, regional and international music selections.

Jamaica is quickly snatching up a lot of tourism business from around the world, offering a wide variety of options for all types of travellers. And officials are working constantly to grow the meetings, incentives, conferences and events segment of the market, commonly referred to as MICE.

A recent trip to destination Jamaica for the annual Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) led to me getting a first-hand experience of the new AC Hotel, which is offering just that.

The JAPEX, which was held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in the second city, brought together hundreds of buyers and sellers, travel industry experts and other stakeholders to negotiate and network.

While existing hotels have been known to provide the MICE facilities, the AC Hotel Kingston, a Mediterranean brand concept, is taking it one step further. Upon entering the AC Hotel one is met with a soothing signature scent and a wide selection of contemporary art pieces from local artists. The location also serves up an array of culinary experiences, thus appealing to all the senses.

Located a stone’s throw away from heartbeat of Kingston, the hotel can host a very small group of about six or a massive one of up to 800 people in its meeting rooms. In the lounging area entrepreneurs are also able to walk-in and host their business meetings at the location in a more relaxed environment.

“It does happen that we have been taking market share from anyone and everyone,” said General Manager Koen Hietbrink.

He told Barbados TODAY that since its opening in June, the AC Hotel Kingston was quickly becoming a popular accommodation choice for both leisure and business travellers from the region and further afield. Currently, approximately 65 per cent of guests are business travellers and the remaining 35 per cent are for leisure. While most of the guests are booking their stay there during the week, Hietbrink said weekend occupancy was already beginning to “live up to our weekdays” occupancy levels.

“It is also due to groups that are here and events happening in the market. For example, the cricket,” said Hietbrink, adding that the average length of stay was currently three nights.

The US$55 million property currently employs some 150 team members, who are constantly perfecting the art of excellent customer service.

With direct flights from Bridgetown to Kingston, Hietbrink is expecting to see a lot more business coming from the Barbados market and the rest of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

“With the direct flights you see that the destination [Jamaica] becomes more accessible, and that is really a good thing. It encourages our CARICOM nationals to travel more, it becomes easier to come here,” he said. “I have seen several business travellers coming down and being able to make use of that new connection here to increase their business here. This country is open for business and the facilities are here to facilitate those interactions,” he added.

The AC Lounge is not only a space for entrepreneurs and business executives to meet. It is also a space for Kingstonians and other Jamaicans just seeking to unwind, have a drink and relax, have a birthday celebration or other social gatherings.

This growing phenomenon is already resulting in the AC Hotel officials making several tweaks. “We have to make sure that it is able to manage the demand, the capacity. So you keep on tweaking your product to meet the demands,” said Hietbrink.

“This becomes this hotspot where business officials meet each other, where artists meet each other, where it is basically for entrepreneurs, and sometimes business leaders and social groups. People dress up to come here. They want to look their best, they want to mingle and have a great hand-crafted cocktail. It is like a hotspot and our hotel guests are among them. For our hotel guests it is an opportunity to meet Kingstonians or to meet Jamaicans,” he explained.

Innovative, hip and game-changer, are a few of the words some people use to describe the AC Hotel. One group of ladies gathered in the lounge told Barbados TODAY they are from the Kingston area and since the opening of the hotel it has been their tradition to go there for drinks “and just to relax and chat”. One lady said it was her first time, and she “loves, loves, loves” the experience.

Besides the excellent customer service, the quality of food is unmatched. Guests can partake in a range of local delicacies and beverages for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and any meal in between. The AC Hotel sources a lot of its products from local farmers through various partnerships. This forms part of the hotel’s wider sustainable and conservation efforts.

“It is something that is really close to our heart. I think in general, we are obviously here to make money, but we are here to do our part in creating opportunities and raising the bar in the economy, making sure we give opportunities to those who didn’t have opportunities,” Hietbrink said.

“The roof is packed with solar panels; there are about 250 panels on the roof. That is very important. We also have a well on property that we use for our irrigation, so it doesn’t come from the network,” he added.

The hotel also has three charging ports on the premises for electric vehicles and the rooms are built with high ceilings, allowing for more natural lighting.

The most challenging for Hietbrink so far has been keeping up with the demands and trying to constantly exceed the expectations of guests visiting the location for a grand time. However, he gets satisfaction from knowing that he and his team members have been able to accomplish just that.

“When you read the guests comments and they write about the warmth and responsiveness of the staff, when you see the growth in a product and a team, that for me is really exciting,” he said.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Omar Robinson said while Jamaica was a seasoned tourist destination in the region, it continued to experience growing popularity for both leisure and business travellers.

“Kingston will, for us, present the largest amount of growth in our resort areas,” he said, as he pointed out that the AC Hotel would help boost the island’s reputation for MICE. (MM)

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