Think you know John Issa, think again….
There’s more to John Issa, chairman of SuperClubs, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask him those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the man behind the suit.
His designation as “Father of the All-Inclusive Revolution” may be lofty, but John is a down-to-Earth Jamaican-born entrepreneur who’d be equally as happy eating lamb chops at the Guinea in London as eating baby back ribs at Applebee’s. In 1976, he created Negril Beach Village, which later became Hedonism II, before building upon Club Med’s popular all-inclusive model in 1978, adding complimentary drinks and a promise of no extra costs to Tower Isle Hotel, the world’s first completely all-inclusive, couples-only resort in Jamaica.
Several other hotels (in Cuba and Jamaica) and awards (Order of Jamaica, the Brazilian Order of the Southern Cross, Master Entrepreneur of the Year) later and John has met HRH Queen Elizabeth II, been featured on his own Jamaican 40-cent postage stamp and traveled the world over. These days John is racking up stamps in his passport along with his wife, children and grandchildren. Where are they off to next? We’ll let him explain in this installment of our Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.
Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
I went to Panama and El Salvador and I was 11 years old. My sister had married a man from San Salvador and was having her first baby. We all went over to be there for the birth of my first nephew. I managed to learn a bit of Spanish while I was there from the other kids my age.
What is your most vivid travel memory?
I was flying to Tokyo from Los Angeles on Pan American Flight 001, which was their “Around The World” flight. It stopped in Anchorage, Alaska at about midnight and I was able to go to the door of the plane and see the sun shining in the middle of the night.
What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
I was really born into the hotel industry because my family had been involved in the business. But my real “Aha” moment was when I realized in the early 70s that many travelers to the Caribbean were from families with modest incomes who got stressed out with respect to how much they could spend daily so they would not finish their money before the end of their vacation. To create a really stress free vacation, I came up with the truly all-inclusive vacation and opened the first hotel in 1976 and the second in January 1978.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
London. I got married in Amman, Jordan and it was on the way back home to Jamaica. It’s also a city that my wife and I very much enjoy. To this day, London is a fun city and we go back at least once a year.
What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
London and Paris because there is so much to do in both countries, whether it’s shopping, eating at restaurants, visiting museums or just walking around the towns.
Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
I would love to go to China. I have always been fascinated by its history and culture. I haven’t been yet because I am told to really go and appreciate China you would have to spend many weeks there. Most of my travels are for much shorter periods of time. I don’t want to leave my grandchildren for too long, so maybe I will have to plan the trip with them one summer.
Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
No, but my wife and daughters do enough shopping to make up for that.
You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
Definitely not! My fridge would not be big enough to hold them all.
What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
On long flights I usually watch movies or sleep. On shorter flights, I read the newspapers and magazines. I also listen to music on my iPod.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My wife, of course.
If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
It would have to be the Presidential Suite on the 8th floor of Breezes Bahamas, which is not only spacious but all the rooms have a magnificent view of the beach and the crystal clear waters of the bay—I could look out the French balcony windows all day.
What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
The strangest food was eating crocodile at a restaurant in Macau.
Trying to decide on the best is really difficult because it could be anything from lamb chops at the Guinea in London to a great Domino’s pizza to baby back ribs at Applebee’s or wonderful French pastries at Le Notre in Paris.
What can’t you travel without?
I hate to admit it but my laptop!
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
It is hard to meet the most, but one of the most interesting was Mr. Soichiro Honda, the man who started the Honda Motor car, who I met while in Japan in 1964. Another interesting person was HRH The Queen, Elizabeth II.
Tropical beach or Snowy Mountain?
Definitely tropical beach
City or countryside?
A bit of both really. I enjoy a lot of what’s available in the cities but enjoy the countryside. Over the years, when my children were younger, we drove through Germany, Switzerland and Italy; it was really enjoyable both in cities and areas like the Black Forest in Germany or Mont Blanc in Switzerland.