In 18 months, Jamaica’s first-ever Unico Hotels property will complete construction, said Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism.
During an exclusive interview with Travel Market Report, Bartlett said Unico Hotels will be the first of three hotels to open as part of a massive, three-luxury-hotel destination resort project in St. James Parish.
The Hard Rock was the first of the three to be announced earlier this year, while the return of the Ritz-Carlton brand to Jamaica was announced at last year’s Caribbean Marketplace conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
But Bartlett is still being cautious about confirming the hotel’s return.
“The second hotel, Hard Rock with a thousand rooms will then commence,” he said. “The [third] luxury hotel, which is to be included in [the destination resort complex], will also commence simultaneously. So, we are expecting that within about five years we will have built out the entire 2,000 rooms [of the complex].”
What is this "luxury hotel?"
“We are referring to a brand that is a very high-end brand,’ said Bartlett.
When asked if previous reports where he mentioned Ritz-Carlton by name were false, he said, “We are only saying that the reporting on the specifics is to be done at an appropriate time."
So, Bartlett was then flat-out asked if Ritz-Carlton was coming back to Jamaica or not.
“It is our hope that Ritz-Carlton will come back to Jamaica,” said Bartlett.
Ritz-Carlton left Jamaica nearly a decade ago when it stopped operating the Rose Hall resort in Montego Bay. Ritz-Carlton had managed the 427-room resort for the 13 years it had been in operation.
Bartlett said the first casino that is expected to open for operation will be in 2024 in the form of Princess Hotels & Resorts, which is close to Negril. The hotel will have roughly 2,0000 rooms.
Bartlett said the completion of the legislative arrangement for casinos is still ongoing. He said that completion could come, “Hopefully by the middle of the next quarter.”
“There are processes and due diligence that have to be done in a number of areas and Jamaica’s legislative arrangements are sometimes not as easily constructed as everywhere else," he said. "One other thing is casino gaming has been a big social issue for a long time, so we have to make sure there is full buy-in also by the properties, which is now fully the case.”
But with gambling fully legalized in certain states in the U.S., Bartlett agreed that there might be less of a stigma toward this form of entertainment.
“There is a wider acceptance of this entertainment form, so we are seeing less resistance of course,” said Bartlett.
Bartlett said Jamaica is currently issuing three gaming licenses. There will be one casino near Negril, one in Montego Bay, and one in Ocho Rios with Bartlett adding, “Kingston will come [eventually].”
He said although three licenses have already been granted, he said there may be four or five in total. But don’t expect much more than that since he added that he doesn’t want Jamaica to become a “casino destination.”
“We don’t want to be known as a casino destination,” he said. “That’s a destination that has a casino on every corner and we are not doing that.
"The strategy we have in Jamaica," he said, "is we are requiring that this gaming activity be embedded into integrated resort developments, so that we will not have standalone casinos, but rather casinos that are part of integrated resort developments.”