Pineapple Court Hotel owner chooses to challenge

“The environment was very clean and fresh. Staff are awesome very friendly and professional. We had a lot of fun. I will recommend Pineapple Court Hotel. Thanks for your extraordinary hospitality,” Lurline, a visitor to the island from the United States, wrote about the eight-year-old resort on travel website,i Booking.com.

Located on Pineapple Street in Ocho Rios, St Ann, the hotel is operated by Tracey Lettman-Duncan who has more than 30 years’ experience in the tourism sector. The 14-room property caters to locals, mostly Europeans who are in the town for a few days or returning residents who are on vacation.

Although a small hotel, Lettman-Duncan prides herself in offering a comfortable stay to her guests. Therefore, Lurline’s review is the minimum standard she has set for property.

“When my guests are happy, they usually write back or leave a review saying how much they enjoyed it,” explained Lettman-Dunn. “They also tend to return and refer other people because they enjoy the experience they had while here. In fact, I would say about 70 per cent of my clientele are based on repeat businesses and referrals.”

The mother of two enjoys being a part of the tourism sector and has worked between Ocho Rios and Negril since graduating from The University of the West Indies.

“I had always had a love for the industry, but the university I attended did not offer a relevant programme at the time. When I graduated, I applied for a job at a hotel in Negril and was accepted. But, I always wanted to run my own hotel. In 2012, I learnt that this property was up for leasing and I realised that I could not let this opportunity pass me by and so I took on the challenge,” she explained.

Her experience since branching out on her own has been fulfilling. Her days are normally hectic. In between checking e-mails and supervising a staff of seven employees, her working hours can easily be spent checking occupancy levels, reservations and doing projections for the months ahead.

“Up until last year the experience was good. We were doing well as a hotel. But, when COVID-19 arrived on our shores and the borders were closed, it hit us hard,” she pointed out. “We had cancellations after cancellations. We only reopened in June after the Government reopened the borders and as more of our local guests started requesting that accommodations.”

Despite the challenge, she has been able to cope because of the support she has received from JN Small Business Loans over the years through the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which assists small and medium enterprises within the tourism sector.

“My relationship with JN Small Business Loans goes back to 2012. In fact, if it wasn’t for them the resort would not have got off the ground,” she explained, while adding that a friend had told her about the TEF programme.

“The relationship has been excellent,” she added. “They have also provided support during this difficult time by giving me a moratorium and I appreciate it very much.”

Gillian Hyde, general manager, JNSBL, pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic has been tough on micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs; however, many have shown varying levels resilience.

“From very early in the pandemic, many members of the MSME sector have been showing their strength and determination to succeed. Many displayed their commitment to adapting and evolving to meet the needs of a new era of doing business. We have also assisted them by providing assistance where possible; and will be increasing our support in various ways,” Hyde said.

Lettman-Duncan currently markets her property through referrals, social media and on travel sites. Her busiest months are from January to April and again during the summer. During off months, she uses the opportunity to host weddings, graduations and other functions.

“Our slow periods are between September and November, and again from May to June which are off-seasons. Those low periods are when we try to capitalise on things that may be popular in those times like weddings,” she explained. “June is a wedding month and so is September.”

COVID-19 has forced her to retool and rethink her projections. Lettman-Duncan is already drafting her post-COVID-19 plans as she anticipates a bounce back of the tourism industry. Included in her plan to market to guests who are in search of longer stays at affordable prices.

“Jamaicans have been supporting us and I am happy and grateful for that. So I hope to nurture an even better relationship with our local visitors. I also hope to get visitors who will be here for longer stays. Our guests who are Jamaicans living overseas from England tend to stay here for two or so weeks and we hope to have more of those guests,” she added.

“My vision here is that Pineapple Court Hotel will become the first place visitors think of when they are on vacation on the north coast. They will stay here and have breakfast, but go out into the town for dining and spend their money that way because we aren’t an all-inclusive and the town would also benefit from our guests,” she stated. It is also her hope that women in business will stay positive and persevere despite the challenges they face.