We first met Courtney Miller on one of our work trips to Jamaica, having had the good fortune to stay at Sandals White House where he is the current General Manager. After chatting briefly on the beach one evening, we instantly liked his easy going manner and could tell that there was a lot more to discover of this seemingly youthful gentleman who knew more than a bit about the landscape of the West Coast of Jamaica. Truth be told, we were more than happy that he could point us in the direction of the Ackindown castle we had heard so much about from another Jamaican historian.
A product of the eastern side of the island (funnily enough), Courtney was meant for the hospitality industry having been raised by a mompreneur (restaurateur and caterer) who kept him involved in the business from an early age. His extroverted personality pushed him in the direction of hotel playmaker and from there he rose through the ranks working through most departments in the hotel: range cook trainee manager, chief steward, bars manager, assistant food & beverage manager, F&B manager, hotel manager and finally GM. Since our first encounter, we've developed a friendship with Courtney delving deeper into his character to better understand his rise to GM at one of the most recognizable hotels in the Caribbean.
Our recent conversations highlights a man very tapped into the fate of the country's leadership and its impact on tourism not just from an economic standpoint but from an environmental and urban planning perspective. We were chatting in the western area of Jamaica known as White House, Westmoreland, a lesser known fishing community 40 minutes drive from the world renowned, Negril and minutes from Blue Fields. The hills rise steeply just beyond the shoreline, and there are many small secluded natural beaches and reserves, lots of rivers tucked away and dense vegetation around making White House an unexpected paradise. The community depends mainly on fishing but in recent years with the arrival of Sandals, it is likely that tourism will play a major role in its development and economy in the near future but more importantly, the sustainability of the environment.
With few restaurants and lodgings to choose from but many large houses in various stages of construction it is interesting to see how the area develops in the next ten years. Urban planning is key, according to Courtney. And we couldn't agree more. White House would be a great case study for proper urban and environmental management and development to protect the myriad of natural habitats that not only enrich the physical beauty of the area but also provide a livelihood to the people. It is our hope that proper care and consideration is taken at the town planning level with an eye on best environmental practices to ensure that the forestry and shoreline are protected, the water channels are maintained and waste is properly disposed of. Over development in the areas of additional hotels and housing developments should be the main concern to protect this jewel of a place. Read on to see how Courtney views Jamaica's spot in the world's hospitality marketplace.
In your mind, what makes the hospitality service industry in Jamaica (or even Westmoreland, Jamaica) unique?
This answer is a given; the people of Jamaica and our obvious culture of warmth sets us apart from other tourism meccas around the world. Jamaicans, I believe, have this innate ability to make tourists feel like royalty. Typically when we have visiting families to our homes, we take out our best china, rearrange the house, offer the best of the best to our guest. Similarly, when our hotel guests come to us, we take them in as our own family and that proverbial red carpet is rolled out. That is exactly the kind of attitude we take into the various aspects of this industry. Another key thing to note is that our hotels, Sandals in particular, gives back to the community. The Sandals Foundation has been impacting the lives of thousands throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean. Many of our visitors appreciate that tourism dollars go back into enhancing the lives of the people who make the industry what it is.
Of note, we've interviewed a couple of other hospitality professionals in different parts of the world and so far the "people" have been proffered as the unique selling quality of each. While the theme is quite similar, if you read carefully you will notice the striking differences that influence how the "people" create unique differences from destination to destination. In Jamaica, we do everything, as they say, hardcore. When we put our minds to something we seriously excel and oftentimes become the global leaders. We love hard, we play hard and we fight hard.
Name one key design element that makes for a memorable hospitality experience?
The rooms and views. At Sandals Whitehouse, all our 360 rooms and suites are strategically designed to offer a panoramic view of the ocean and the sunset from one end of the room and the rolling hills of Westmoreland and the sunrise from the other end. Waking up to or having these awe-inspiring scenery every day during ones vacation certainly makes for an unforgettable experience.
How often do you refresh/renovate/redesign the properties that you manage? What is the catalyst for the change?
As an innovative company aware of the competitive nature of our business, there is no routine aligned to renovations. Constantly investing in our properties is fundamentally important in continuing to compete at every level. Trends are constantly emerging and travelers are researching everything and everywhere before they decide. Ensuring that amenities and facilities remain first class, coupled with a superb and well trained labour force is key.
We believe in order for a hospitality environment to be truly successful, at least these three things: design, service and superior product must be top-knotch…what is your take on this.
I absolutely agree with this, our chairman’s philosophy is to give the guest more than he or she expects and that is the mantra we apply to these three areas. A unique design – a resort built for couples should have all the elements that helps to either enhance or rekindle the romance. Service, should always be spot on and consistent. Nothing beats excellent service with a smile; and of course superior product, we are always enhancing our luxury-included offerings to suit our guests, from our rooms and amenities to our Discovery Gourmet Dining and WeddingMoon experiences, everything must be top-notch.
By the way we did make it to the Ackindown castle and will be sharing our experience in another post. Thanks for reading and feel free to share this post and comment below.