NEGRIL, Westmoreland – The management and staff of CocoLaPalm, a seaside resort in Negril, are cognisant of the challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but that has not deterred them from extending the same high-quality service to guests, which they have been doing for the past 25 years.
They are also offering special discounted rates to Jamaicans, both locally and in the Diaspora, who stay at the property.
The 107-room CocoLaPalm property, located along the Norman Manley Boulevard, is said to be the largest boutique resort in Westmoreland.
Basking in the achievements of celebrating 25 years in the tourism industry, Managing Director William Vassell disclosed that they are proud of what they have achieved so far.
“I started in 1995 with 19 rooms. Today, we have grown to 107 rooms. It’s marvellous,” he remarked, as he described his journey. He explained that the hotel has undergone various points of development since opening including the building of rooms and expanding the restaurant and bar.
Chairman John Vosika, a US citizen, said it was one of the best decisions he made when he invested in the property, and, by extension, the Jamaican tourism industry.
“For years, I had been very impressed with the Jamaican tourism product, the warmth and friendly attitude of the people and the culture, so when the opportunity came to invest, it was a seamless decision for me,” Vosika said.
“I have a complement of some of the finest staff, a set of people that anyone in the industry would be proud to have on their team. I am also grateful to the many guests who have chosen to vacation at CocoLaPalm over the past 25 years,” Vosika added.
Vosika singled out Vassell whom he described as a real trooper, noting that he has evoked some of the most meticulous management strategies to keep operations going and staff employed.
“Particularly of note was during the global economic crisis between 2008 and 2012, but most notably is during the current pandemic, which has impacted the travel and tourism industries globally,” said Vosika.
The CocoLaPalm Resort also features two swimming pools and shares the length of the famed seven-mile Negril beach.
Utilising a European Plan (EP) concept, the hotel is quite popular with visiting guests coming from across the globe, although its main market is the United States.
Vassell said the hotel has a lot of repeat guests, with a number of individuals opting to stay in the same rooms as they come back year after year.
He notes that the hotel has withstood various challenges, including the rise of the all-inclusive resorts.
Now, CocoLaPalm’s management is pushing towards an even brighter future.
“I remember in 1997/98 when all these major resorts were coming in. I knew we had a good product and our staff represented our brand well and that made us successful, irrespective of our size,” he remarked.
This he attributes to the exemplary service that is and has been provided by the 111 staff members at the establishment over the years.
Vassell said the high level of returning guests is a testament to the level of service and care they provide. However, due to the pandemic they too have been experiencing the negative impact on their operations.
But in a stark contrast, on January 25, the United Nations International Labour Organization (UNILO) reported that more than 225 million jobs were lost globally in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but CocoLaPalm’s management opted instead to furlough their staff during the shutdown.
And now with low occupancy at the resort, staff members are being rotated.
Since the borders were reopened in June, CocoLaPalm Resort’s management has been implementing various strategies to keep their doors open, in spite of the ongoing uncertainties.
However, like everyone else, they too are concerned that COVID-19 could spell a further devastating blow to the tourism industry in general.
Vassell notes that he is carefully watching what is happening in the international markets, especially with the recent announcements surrounding quarantining for travellers entering the United States and the potential fallout for the local industry.
“We just hope that we can work something out because we cannot change their policy and we cannot dictate to them what to do, but we just hope that the best decision will be made in the interest of all and people will be able to travel safely,” he explained.
“Even though the pandemic is so vicious globally, we are hoping to break through this. Despite the financial impact due to the downturn, the management is more concerned about our staff members who are critical to the establishment. Our goal is to be here for at least another 25 years.”
Despite the slowdown, Vassell is grateful for the business that the hotel has been doing so far.
He explained that they are presently averaging 30 per cent occupancy, which includes a number of locals. He stressed that they have enacted strict COVID-19 protocols among staff and guests in accordance with the rules and regulations implemented by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
He further remarked that so far everyone has embraced the programme, which, he said, may have contributed to the high number of locals that have visited the property in recent times.
Vassell is optimistic that the tourism industry will rebound and so too will CocoLaPalm.
He is now looking forward to what the next 25 years have to offer, indicating that they hope to make further improvements to the hotel for an even greater experience for all.