Jamaica: Back to Basics

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The highly anticipated opening of GoldenEye heralds the start of a golden age for boutique hotels in Jamaica.

Ask anyone in tourism what the name Jamaica brings to mind and you’ll likely hear tales of reggae music, jerk chicken, laid-back locals and large, sprawling resorts. For years now, the most popular resort properties on the island have been the big ones; all-inclusives still account for much of the island’s tourism, and even luxury resorts like the Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall and Half Moon resemble the expansive plantation homes of Jamaica’s colonial period.

The large-scale resort model works for many tourists, it’s true. But some on the island have begun to notice a growing niche market of travelers interested in smaller, more intimate vacation experiences. And with last month’s reopening of GoldenEye, expected to be one of Jamaica’s most high-profile boutique resorts, it looks like they might be onto something. Already a hot destination for all-inclusive and traditional resort stays, Jamaica is poised to become the next big thing in boutique travel, too.

goldeneye Boutique hotels have existed in Jamaica for decades, but few have created quite the buzz that GoldenEye, in Orcabessa, is currently experiencing. And according to Nick Simmonds, managing director of the resort, that’s perfectly natural.

“We’re creating a new track of living in the Caribbean,” he says. “Traditionally, Jamaica is known as a fully-inclusive destination, with resorts that tend to trap all the guests inside the resort itself.” But, he continues, at GoldenEye—the original estate of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond—guests find themselves right in the middle of Jamaican life and culture—right down to the rooms themselves. “We’ve used renewable wood sources for the woodwork, and the windows open up to catch a natural breeze rather than air conditioning…. With this design, the living space really comes into the outside.” (He’s quick to point out that traditional air conditioning is available for guests who prefer that option.)

The 52-acre resort features just 22 units, nine of which are new beach cottages that put guests even closer to the natural beauty of the island. “The beach units are on the beach themselves. Often in the Caribbean people say they have beachfront rooms, but it ends up just being beach access or whatever the case is—50 ft. away, or 70 ft. or 300 ft. In these cottages, guests step out of their rooms onto the beach itself, literally.” GoldenEye’s two new Lagoon Suites also take their names seriously: “They’re actually levered over the lagoon itself. If a guest fell off the porch they’d actually land in the lagoon.”

GoldenEye’s activities also put a spotlight on Jamaica’s natural treasures. “We have a former Jamaican triathlete heading up the program for exercise,” Simmonds explains, “as well as kayaking, workouts, jet skis. With the restoration, we want to put a bit of a twist on things.” Part of the resort is a working farm, he points out, which supplies most of the resort’s vegetables. Scheduled tours also encourage guests to venture outside the resort to experience little-visited attractions like the Cranbrook Flower Farm, a 13-acre botanical garden where clients can tour, hike and enjoy a picnic lunch; or the recently completed horseback riding trails in the hills of St. Mary.

Coming from work in boutique-heavy destinations like Turks and Caicos and the Grenadines, Simmonds is no stranger to the benefits of small resort stays. But GoldenEye’s take on that concept is uniquely Jamaican, he says. “I’ve been around the world, to weird and wonderful places, and Jamaicans have the nicest personalities. We’re giving them the tools to work and to be professional, but still letting that personality shine through. That’s the strength of Jamaica itself: its people, its personality, its own music that comes through the people itself,” he explains. “The whole idea is to get professional, five-star service, and to provide that Jamaican personality as well.” Rates at GoldenEye start at $536 per room per night.

a rising tide Of course, GoldenEye is just one of Jamaica’s many boutique resorts—and according to Lyndsey North, integrated marketing manager for Funjet Vacations, they’re all due for increased bookings. “GoldenEye is a fabulous part of Jamaica’s rich history, and the buzz surrounding the opening of the property is sure to generate additional interest in the destination,” she says. “It will also give consumers some awareness about the unique experience and incredible history they can find at these resorts.”