Respected tourism stalwart and managing director of the Charela Inn, Daniel Grizzle says he is worried the ‘character of Negril’ is fading right before his eyes as more small resorts close in Westmoreland.
Grizzle, former president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, told Our Today that the thrust by successive governments for large-scale foreign investment could completely devastate the growing town—adding it may just be too late to even slow the inevitable or reverse the damage.
The concern continues to expand as smaller hotels struggle to compete, are eventually put out of business and, in frustration, sell their properties; only to be bought out by the larger, mostly foreign resorts for next to nothing.
When asked what he owed the area’s collective success in his 40-plus years of operation as proprietor of the Charela Inn and the Mirage Resort in West End, Grizzle was confident tourism in Nergil would grow but not necessarily to the benefit of the local community.
As he sees it, these companies understand little about the history of the area and only think about their profit margins. Grizzle spoke about the need for the Jamaican Government to strike a balance between the smaller local owners and the all-inclusive resorts, which is repeatedly ignored.
“To be quite frank with you, [Negril] is not as successful as I thought we should or could have been, and it all comes down to the political directorate that we’ve been having on both sides over the years,” Grizzle began.
“Reason why I say that? Both parties are concentrating on changing the whole character of Negril, by having large, all-inclusive [hotels]. When they talk about the promotion and advertising of the town, they talk about Riu [Negril], this and that, which is alien. It’s not our character,” he told Our Today.
“What made Negril popular in the 1970s and 80s was the feeling that you’re coming to a resort where you’re intermingling with local people, its local culture and its personality. We’re slowly wiping that out and that is not a successful Negril,” he added.
Grizzle, a native of Hanover, reiterated that on its current trajectory, there won’t be many small Jamaican businesses in operation as there are “fewer and fewer individuals like myself; more and more mega-corporations and ‘mega-foreign’.”
Arguing that he is not anti-foreigner or xenophobic, the Charela Inn’s owner said he acknowledges the role foreign hotels play in contributing to larger visitor volumes.
Continuing, the French-Jamaican was disappointed that the government has seemingly placed zero impetus in encouraging a new, young generation of hoteliers to emerge.
“The government has made very little effort to attract young entrepreneurs into the tourism industry in Negril and that’s a terrible mistake,” he said.
“The same way you go out and you pitch to these big foreigners ‘You come to Jamaica and we’re gonna do a, b, c and d for you,’—I don’t have a problem with that but uTech (University of Technology) turns out some brilliant graduates in hotel management; why aren’t they more encouraged to start something for their own?” Grizzle asked.
“Once upon a time in Negril, Jamaicans owned 75 per cent of the accommodation. Today, I don’t think we even have 25 [per cent]. And every time a property goes up for sale, that was Jamaican-owned, it’s purchased by a foreigner. I think we need to keep that balance which is very important,” he explained.
The phenomenon isn’t isolated to Jamaica as the Caribbean, where native hotel owners once thrived, sees the balance of possession shrink rapidly and tip towards a foreign majority.
“If you go over the whole Caribbean islands, we had more locals invested in the hotel industry than anywhere else. That was something unique for us. You go to the Dominican Republic now, there aren’t many Dominicans in ownership, nor in Barbados, nor St Lucia—the number of natives that own a piece of the industry is still high but dwindling at an alarming rate,” Grizzle contended.
“Negril is the only area in Jamaica where still, we have the highest rate of local ownership but it’s not protected and shrinking. I cannot consider Negril to be a success if it’s success for others and not for us,” he added.