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John Issa

A Pristine Product

Editors’ Note

John Issa introduced the all-inclusive concept in Jamaica when he created the first all-inclusive hotel on the island in 1976 – Negril Beach Village – which later became Hedonism II in 1981. He revolutionized the resort industry again with the introduction of the Super-Inclusive holiday, promising vacations with no hidden costs. Issa is a recipient of many honors including his own Jamaican 40-cent postage stamp commemorating the centenary of the Jamaica Hotel Law (1904-2005), the Brazilian Order of the Southern Cross (Officer Rank) in 2001 and the Order of Jamaica in 1998, and Master Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 2003.

Company Brief

Building on 30 years of development, the SuperClubs (www.superclubs.com) Super-Inclusive concept continues to grow in the Caribbean and beyond. There are 11 SuperClubs properties in Jamaica, Curaçao, The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil, which fall under the brand names Breezes, Grand Lido, and Hedonism. In addition, SuperClubs has three Super-Affiliate resorts in Jamaica: Starfish Trelawny Beach Resort, Rooms Ocho Rios, and the Negril Beach Villa. New properties include the Rooms in Negril, Jamaica, and the Starfish Santa Luzia in Aracaju, Brazil.

Has the economic downturn affected SuperClubs, and is it challenging to find growth?

These are challenging times. This is my 47th year in the industry, so I’ve seen a variety of crises, but this one is different because it is worldwide. We have to weather this by earning less, keeping our product pristine, giving value, and trying to operate as efficiently as possible.

Is there an understanding that all-inclusive can mean high quality?

When I traveled, I found that those at all-inclusive resorts were extremely well off, and what they considered true luxury was being able to get up from the dining table and go to their room without having to find the waiter to sign a check. So I realized this product would appeal to people with very high incomes. The real luxury we offer is freedom.

Is it challenging to build awareness for a variety of brands, and which brand is the focus for you?

My people have made me swear off creating any more brands, but I enjoy the creative side of it. We are looking to grow each of our brands, but our main brand is Breezes, which is our four-star brand and is probably the one that will grow the fastest.

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The pool area at Breezes Curacao

For the Breezes brand, do guests expect a full spa offering, and has that been a focus for you?

Other than the very small Breezes Montego Bay, we have full spas at all of our Breezes and Hedonism properties. We’ve tried to make each of them unique. We actually built Breezes Bahamas’ treatment rooms on the beach; at Hedonism, it’s a more traditional type of structure; and at Grand Lido Negril, the relaxation rooms are around the pool. So we’ve tried to build them to fit in with the tropical atmosphere. We want to make sure when people are staying at one of our hotels, they know they’re in Jamaica, or in The Bahamas, or in Brazil. It’s not just a matter of a room on the beach.

What do you offer guests with regard to food and beverage?

We have our Jamaican restaurants, Reggae Café, which are in the hotels; our Japanese restaurant is Munasan; our Italian restaurant is Pastafari, which is a play on pasta and Rastafarian; and at the Grand Lido properties, we serve more traditional cuisine at Piacere.

Do you ever look back and appreciate all you’ve achieved, or are you always looking to the future?

You work, and the awards come. The Brazilian government gave me a national honor, the Order of the Southern Cross, and that really took me aback. But one of the awards that has given me the greatest satisfaction is the tripod award at the annual national photographic competition in 2006, which goes to the most outstanding amateur photography entrant. When you are honored as Hotelier of the Year by the Caribbean Hotel Association, it’s your team that has done it. There is no way one person can do that; it’s your staff. For a photography award, it’s me and my camera.

Did you know early on that SuperClubs would work, and could you have imagined in the early days it would have grown to what it is today?

I knew it would work, and I knew it would spread, but I never had a plan to build a larger company. I think your work will serve you, your family, and your community. If your only objective is accumulating wealth, it’s a very shallow life.

If I asked people who have worked closely with you what it’s like to work for John Issa, what would they say?

It would probably be complimentary because most of my senior people have been with me for an extremely long time, and I think that, in itself, says a lot.

How challenging is it in a business like yours to turn it off, and do you have the ability to ever get away from it?

It’s very difficult; this is the unfortunate thing. When I had two hotels, I had two people running them. And when I was on holiday with the wife and children, I’d get a fax machine in the room, and they’d fax me reports every Monday morning, and I’d tell them to call me with good news and call with bad news only if I could help them solve the problem. Other than that, I was free. Now the first thing I do when I get into a hotel room is make sure that the computer logs on, and when I return from dinner, I check e-mail. Technology is a blessing and a curse. Before cell phones and the Internet, the quality of life was better.

Those who know you say you will always be working – it’s just part of your nature. Can you imagine stepping away from the business?

I’ve done some restructuring. I appointed a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer, so that has cut down the number of people who report to me, which moves me one step further back. I still enjoy the creative side.

You’ve had a pretty good life?

In reality, I can’t complain. It would be wrong to.