reelance writer Claudette Covey
recently spoke with Linda Smith, owner of Villas by Linda Smith,
operator of 50 villa accommodations in Jamaica.
Travel Weekly:What are some of the
elements of a villa vacation?
Linda Smith: The cook does all the shopping and
food preparation, starting with coffee outside the bedroom door in
Then there's a fully cooked breakfast when all the guests are
ready. Lunch is on the veranda or terrace. There's a cocktail hour
with hors d'oeuvres and a three-course dinner.
Before the guests arrive, the staff knows all the details about
the group -- whether grandma's on a low-sodium diet, or if grandpa
can't have gravy. The cooks can do any kind of menu -- from
vegetarian and low-cholesterol to low-fat and diabetic diets.
Each guest spends $30 to $35 dollars a day for food. You would
spend at least $30 on dinner alone at a hotel or restaurant. And it
wouldn't be the same quality. And it wouldn't be personalized.
Some cooks prepare dinner for the kids at 5:30 p.m., and hors
d'oeuvres at 6 p.m. with a lobster dinner and another dinner for
vegetarians. Kids can have hamburgers and pizza at lunch while the
adults can have a seafood salad and chilled avocado soup.
TW:What would you say to travel agents and
their clients who believe Jamaica is dangerous?
Smith: I would deal with absolute fact. There
is crime in western Kingston, which is an eight-block ghetto. My
properties are between 125 miles and 150 miles over the 7,000-foot
Blue Mountain Range away from western Kingston.
We have a 100% safety record in our villas and have for the 18
years we've been in business. The example I use is this: Would
someone not go to New York to see a Broadway play or to visit the
Metropolitan Museum of Art because there's crime across the river
TW:What are the benefits to the travel
agent in selling a villa vacation as opposed to a hotel
Smith: We pay agents 10% commission on the
gross rate, except at Christmas and New Year's, when agents add
commission on top of the net rate.
Clients will come home very happy -- and surprised that the
villa vacation was better than advertised. Travel agents look
really good in the eyes of their clients.
My staff of six will spoon-feed the agents the information they
need to be knowledgeable and informative. It's a very narrow market
sector, so we know it thoroughly.
TW:To whom would these vacations
Smith: Anyone or any group: couples who travel
together every year; honeymooners; bridal parties; family reunions
-- we can even accommodate 45 people in various houses on the same
villa estate -- golfers; clients celebrating special events, such
as birthdays; and companies hosting corporate retreats.
TW:What's the procedure for tipping the
Smith: Tips are 10% of the villa-rental rate in
high season, Dec. 15 to April 15, and 15% in low season, April 16
to Dec. 14.
TW:How did you get into this
Smith: It began 18 years ago with the
renovation of a 40-year-old house called Tranquility, an absolute
dump on a beautiful piece of land that I was remodeling as a second
home. I basically tore it down and added a tennis court, gazebo and
On an extra piece of land I built a second house, Serenity.
Friends began asking me to help them with their villas, and then
strangers began to approach me.
What started as just a project for a second home evolved into a
business that now represents 50 private villas.