Smith vouches for villa vacations

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 the morning.

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 in Newark?

TW:What are the benefits to the travel agent in selling a villa vacation as opposed to a hotel room?

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 appeal?

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 villa staff?

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 business?

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 beach cottage.

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.

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