Before former U.S. Ambassador Lauren Lawrence left Jamaican shores to lead the Central American Action Committee, we spoke about Jamaica’s future. He leaned forward, his voice dropped to a confidential level.
“There are dynasties to be made here,” he intoned.
The Issa family may be fulfilling that prophecy, as Grand Lido in Negril becomes the crown jewel of the Issa family’s half century in the Jamaican tourist industry and a third generation of Issa enter hotel management.
From the gracious Myrtle Bank Hotel in downtown Kingston where journalist, Evon Blake, plunged Jamaica into a new era of desegregation by taking a bold leap into the swimming pool, to a discreetly-set nude beach and pool with catering to topless Europeans at the Grand Lido, the Issa’s hotels have “made waves” in the industry.
Today, employing nearly 2,000 people with only nine being foreigners on work permits, Village Resorts, the parent company of the SuperClubs group, is the country’s largest foreign exchange earning company in this “growing industry.”
The Grand Lido, a joint venture between SuperClub’s Village Resorts, Limited, the Urban Development Corporation, Mutual Life Assurance Company Limited, is a showcase of Jamaican marble, mahogany and craftsmanship.
Its natural beauty on a ceiba cotton-strewn half mile of white sane beach shows tourism at its best in the way the Jamaican Conference Centre demonstrated local ingenuity and industry can accomplish.
The entrance to the Grand Lido which faces SuperClubs’ Hedonism II at the Bloody Bay end of the Norman Manley Boulevard, is “deceptively plain.” Once past the brilliant white stuccoed façade, subtle crystalline colours interplay in a beautiful marble foyer.
The soothing sound of a waterfall produced by the lazy turning of a waterwheel, welds Jamaica’s past when sugar was king, to Jamaica’s future whereby the sweetness of success is indulged at every turn.
In the ultimate all-inclusive resort, guests are collected at the airport and sip cocktails while surveying the hub of sprawling 22-acre resort while uninformed staff check them in.
The Grand Lido features nine bars, three restaurants, three club houses with 24-hour restaurant or room service, sunset cruises aboard a 147-ft yacht, satellite television and stereotapedecks in every beachfront room, watersports, video movies, discos and a piano bar.
A midnight swim is enlivened by music piped into the water and coloured lights flashing in syncopation with a reggae beat. A week at the Grand Lido is like a cruise aboard a luxury liner except your cabin is spacious and you will not get seasick.
Bloody Bay is not name for its illustrious pirate history, the capture of Calico Jack Racham and his consorts Annie Bonney and Mary Read, who were enjoying a rum punch party there when captured in 1720. Bloody Bay is named for the condition of the water when they were slaughtered there.
Grand Lido’s brilliant beach arcs in a gentle half mile curve and joins another two-mile stretch in the direction of Lucea, Hanover’s capital.
Guests can wind surf, sail, water-ski, view the reefs through the Grand Lido’s glass bottom boat, and admire the sleek lines of the refurbished yacht, “Zein,” whose American captain, because of insurance requirements, (like Garvey’s Black Star Line, a foreign captain and engineer had to be hired) departs each afternoon at three for a leisurely cruise pass Negril point for a sunset at sea, with lavish libations which Calico Jack and his lady pirates would have envied.
In calm weather the “Zein”, once owned by the Greek millionaire, Aristotle Onassis, who made a gift of it to the Raniers of Monaco, accommodates up to 140 passengers. With a maximum occupancy of 400 at the Grand Lido, every guest could enjoy three sunset cruises during their week stay.
During the day, the brilliant white 147-foot yacht adds a lot of class to the view of the Bloody Bay. Its Persian carpets and elegant furnishings provide a romantic evening adventure for Lido guests. Weddings at sea are in the “Zein” future, too.
One feature of the watersport programme, observed at all SuperClubs resorts in Jamaica, is the “blessed” absence of jet skis whose drone strikes fear in the swimmer and adds oil slick to suntan lotion on one’s body.
Keeping jetskiers from invading the placid waters, as well as other Negril beachfront properties is an issue of immense magnitude among Negril hoteliers.
By contrast, Lido guests can learn to scuba dive from the resort qualified instructors who teach the basics in the Grand Lido’s swimming pools before guiding them to play mermaids and mermen among the silent reefs abundant in brilliantly coloured forms of sea life, at depths of up to 30 feet.
You can’t go hungry at the Grand Lido. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style on the terrace with mint-green and sea-blue wrought iron chairs around circular glass top tables, cooled by numerous ceiling fans on a sea breezy terrace, so open, it is like dining outside but under protection from the sun.
Live music during lunch is one of the Grand Lido’s exclusive features. A five-piece combo was playing the day I toured the hotel its second week of operation.
Showa are performed nightly with enough variety to ensure that a guest staying two weeks would never see the same show twice.
Service in the terrace is not obtrusive, coffee and iced water are quietly replenished and you serve yourself from an abundant buffet that spans 40 feet.
The day’s lunch included the following choices prepared by Grand Lido chef, Richard Reitz, and his staff: smoked pork, shark, steak and kidney pie, Rotini with clam sauce, avocado seafood crepe with pesto sauce, pomme Bolegere, along with a range of salads, sandwiches, fruits arranged on a mirrored surface, a selection of gourmet cheeses and a separate table with dessert.
The menu is also arranged so that a guest staying two weeks will never see the same selection twice. The pasta restaurant opens at 3 p.m. and closes at 3 a.m. Each club gouse has hot food available or the guests can avail themselves of 24-hour room service.
ISSAS INVENTED ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS
Resident manager, Joseph Issa, fields compliments concerning the Grand Lido’s architecture and interior design with grace. “It’s been six year, in the planning stages,” he explained. “The architect, Evan Williams, had a lot of influence on the design.”
Joseph reminded me that the Issas invented the all-inclusive resort system 11 years ago.
“When my father had the idea of a hotel catering to couples only and throwing in drinks and cigarettes, something even Club Med had not done, it was outrageous, people thought he was mad!”
The SuperClubs have laughed all the way to the bank, however. “Couples is the only hotel in the Caribbean that has run for 10 successive years with over 90% paid occupancy. From there, to Hedonism II, to Jamaica Jamaica, Boscobel (which caters to families) we also have a Couples in St. Lucia.”
While not everyone is enthusiastic about the all-inclusive concept, arguing that it isolates the tourist from the local economy, it has been widely imitated.
“Now there are 22 all-inclusives in Jamaica, to show the rate at which they have copied us. We’ve had quite an influence on how people take holidays in the Caribbean. With Grand Lido, we’ve had to move a step ahead of even ourselves, and we’ve invented a new generation of all-inclusives and hope to raise the standard of all our other SuperClubs.”
According to Joseph Issa, room service on a 24-hour basis is a new twist in the SuperClub service, whose food had garnered a majority of awards in local culinary competitions.
“The food is good, and with this, we are taking it a step ahead. Room service that is cold by the time it reaches the room is no good.” Hence Grand Lido uses its three club houses to dispense the room service.
“We didn’t anticipate the demand for it,” he said. “It’s very popular and we’ll have to increase the staff because of the customer demand we’ve had already.”
“We’re going for a young Miami Vice Look, and all the furniture, except the rattan in one restaurant and plastic chairs in the Pasta bar and disco is made in Jamaica,”
Unique terra cotta lamp shades in the shape of human faces are a novel touch as was a beautiful mural mosaic by the talented Manchester artist, Tukula Nakama. This spans a curved wall. Another unusual feature was glass triangular, handle-less sinks in the rest rooms on the lobby level, which have faucets which operate by foot pedals.
SuperClubs prides itself on being a Jamaican-owned and operated enterprise with the exception of the Captain of “Zein” and a few chefs catering to an international clientele.
Jamaicans who wish to spend a day enjoying the fully equipped gym with both Nautilus and Universal exercise equipment, water sports facilities, complimentary manicures, pedicures, valet service, food and entertainment will have to be in the “aggressive achiever” category. Day rates are about J$500 per person or more than twice that to stay the night.
Accommodation is world-class. However, it carries an opulent décor one would not expect in a beach resort. Short velvet-napped wall-to-wall carpeting, fine Jamaican mahogany built-in closets, dressers and vanity tables, phones, floor-to-ceiling mirrors opposite lavishly dressed king sized beds (strangely a rarity in Jamaican hotels); a sparkling bathroom with decorative tiling and built-in hair dryers.
Each room fronts the seacoast, still graced with enormous ceiba cotton trees, which guests can admire from their patios.
The business traveler is particularly catered to, with a 5000 square-foot, parquet-flowered meeting room, secretarial services, fax machines and direct overseas phone service, and a multilingual staff.
Eighty percent of the staff speaks a second language and night manager speaks nine.
The Grand Lido offers are day and night – four tennis courts, two of which are lit for night; 10-channel international satellite television in each room plus a house channel and videography.
Source: The Observer