This was Kingston I was visiting, the "other" Jamaica, not the couples-cuddling Jamaica of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, or Negril. This was the Jamaica of "certain roads" and "certain hours" to avoid when traveling from airport to hotel, the city of poverty and street crime, some travel articles told me.
Here's the straight poop on Kingston: It is the heart of the country's government, its financial core, and the site of the University of the West Indies. With a population of nearly one million, it is like all populous cities, with some good neighborhoods and some bad ones, some safe roads and some less so. It is not a vacation city; it has no beach. It does, however, have fascinating resources-beyond festivals and open markets-for those who plan meetings and conferences there. They include a superb National Museum of Art that displays the creative mind and hands of the Jamaican artist; The Institute of Jamaica that, while small, offers some interesting exhibits and is also the repository of historic artifacts that are just being brought to light; and an old Colonial area, Spanish Town, that-if ever fully restored-could rival Williamsburg, VA for historical validity and interest. The local churchyard has gravestones dating to the 1600s.
The city is home to the Jamaica Conference Centre, a sophisticated meeting place on the Kingston waterfront that has hosted medical and other meetings, which have some connection with the University of the West Indies. Conference rooms have facilities for simultaneous translation in six languages; the largest accommodates 1,050 persons, and there are three major hotels nearby.
My trip was a preview of the new Crowne Plaza Hotel that should now be fully open at the crest of a hill in a beautiful section of Kingston. It's 14 miles from Norman Manley Airport and four miles from the shopping and dining area of New Kingston, where there are art galleries, the Bob Marley Museum, and live theater. Not that you'll really want to leave the hotel very much. The Crowne Plaza is a pleasure house of fine food, fine wines, fine furnishings, hand-finished woodwork, and hand-screened wall coverings. The inside of the gourmet restaurant never caught me for dinner once; I enjoyed its varied menu outside on the terrace, watching the sun go down behind the Blue Mountains and the lights of Kingston twinkle on, after sipping a long-forgotten favorite: a Cuba Libra-the old rum and coke of my youth. For a really nice corporate function, there is an intimate Wine Cellar for private dining for up to 30. The 135-room hotel has a "smart desk" in each room and suite (and a coffee pot, and iron and board) and data ports with on-line capability. On the exec floor, there are faxes. It also has a pool, tennis, squash, and a fitness center with sauna and Jacuzzi. Hotel vans run guests downhill to play the 18-hole golf course nearby or to scour the fashionable shopping plaza.
If you want to travel uphill a long and winding way, you come to Strawberry Hill, Chris Blackwell's intimate and exquisitely simple resort that grew out of a few villas built for his friends in the music business. The rooms are romantic and the prices amazingly reasonable.
Cruising Smoothly Not only has Carnival Cruise Lines launched the world's largest cruise ship, the 101,000-ton Carnival Destiny (3,400 total passenger capacity, nearly three football fields in length, and 55 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty), it has ordered two more like it. Buyers are also finding out about their new cruise-only pricing with airfare not included (many people have frequent flyer miles of their own and would rather have the price of the cruise broken out). So far, they also offer the industry's only Vacation Guarantee. If guests are not satisfied with their Carnival cruise and notify the purser's office prior to the first port of call, they may disembark at the first non-U.S. port of call and receive a pro-rated refund, along with reimbursement for coach air transportation back to the ship's port of embarkation, even if they are part of a corporate group.
Meanwhile, Holland America just announced that it has already made the last payment on its newest luxury cruise ship, the MS Veendam, which just entered service in May 1996. The debt for most of the company's eight luxury ships in operation has been retired, and the company is making down payments on its next new ship the MS Rotterdam VI, as well as two as-yet-unnamed sister ships that will enter service in 1999. It is also using the freed-up funds for more marketing and communications and service upgrades. Nice way to do business, huh?
Set Your Sites If you are involved in incentive travel (or want to be), you're making a mistake if you don't register for the first Society of Incentive Travel Executives (SITE) University of the Americas, which I'm chairing in Charleston, SC June 22 to 26. (Call SITE at 212/575-0910 to do so.) The content will be valuable (I guarantee it), and the city is a fascinating sampling of southern architecture and history for the high-end, sophisticated traveler. Charleston Place, the Orient-Express Hotel that is headquarters, is a stylish, historic destination in itself, while special events at close-by Kiawah Island (wanna play the Ocean Course?) and Wild Dunes will make the program hard to match.
No Good Deed Jim Dittman, CITE, of Dittman Incentive Marketing was frank enough to say at the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives International Conference in Vienna in the fall that he increasingly sees customers rethinking their commitment to incentive travel. And unfortunately, in our January issue, we left him with that bare statement hanging out. It seems unfair not to add that he went on to point out the importance of continuing to build corporate loyalty in a world of downsizing and indifference, and warned that the problem with many incentive programs today is that they are planned by inexperienced people who are pressured for bottom-line results, "resulting in cheap, lower-level programs that don't impassion or motivate."
Speaking of Motivators Remember going to see the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London and being rushed through by a Beefeater with an attitude? "Keep moving. Keep moving." That's all been gone for a few years. Now, a sweeter Beefeater accompanies your private group (50 Pound/$82 per person in the morning; 75 Pound/$123 in the evening) from the Tower entrance to the Jewel House, pointing out the major points of interest along the way. The jewels are displayed in separate cases before a moving walkway, but you may step off to stand and look at them as long as you want. There are also lantern-lit evening tours of the medieval palace within the Tower, followed by a visit to Tower Bridge for a tour, a glass of wine, and a breathtaking view of London by night (28 Pound/$46.05). (Or, do it on the cheap and give each participant a Royal Pass for $27 for three palaces or $36 for five.)
But then your group would miss dinner and a jazz concert in an 18th-century orangery at Kensington Palace or dinner in the Tudor-style state rooms at Hampton Court Palace. Historic Royal Palaces is a government agency, part of Britain's Department of National Heritage, charged with keeping Britain's state-owned palaces safe, well-maintained, and accessible to the public, and making enough money to sustain their upkeep. Other properties they can offer are the Banqueting House at Whitehall, the State Apartments and Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, and Kew Palace with Queen Charlotte's Cottage. Teams of historians and conservators are available to describe how the properties are run today.
Whadya Think of That? I know Paul Hanley. He is a really smart, down-to-earth hotel man whose most recent position has been executive vice president of Radisson Hotels Worldwide. He has just been promoted by Carlson Hospitality Worldwide (which owns Radisson) to president of Regent International Hotels. Blink. Radisson? Regent?
Carlson has entered into a joint venture with Four Seasons Hotels Inc. to bring its high-tech marketing and reservations systems (not to mention its franchising experience) to the top-shelf, five-star Regent brand. Plans are to double the Regent system in 36 months "in Asia, in The Americas-North, South, and Central-in Mexico, in Europe . . . around the world." The existing Regent hotels will continue under the management of Four Seasons, and both organizations will pursue new hotels, very selectively licensing the Regent name to "quality third-party operators," said Hanley in an exclusive interview. They are particularly interested in bringing into the Regent system independent luxury hotels, a category of property that has been hungry to acquire sales and marketing representation for some years now but has never before had the opportunity to do so without giving up its own (often family) management. Now these hotels can acquire a name that is loved by clients around the world, while keeping their own management-if it meets Regent/Four Seasons' operational standards.
Whoa My report in February that Mike Benton had been named incoming president of the Texas Travel Industry Association had only one slight defect. Benton is head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Irving, TX, not neighboring Arlington. Mike, forgive this Easterner.