A Peek Inside the History of Jamaica Inn, a Family-Owned Hotel in the Caribbean

When you first set foot at Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, you can see what separates the property from other resorts and hotels.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

The property is open, with gorgeous views of the beach and ocean, but there are an old-world feel and a home-y feeling thanks in part to its owners. That warm family feeling resonates mainly because the property is run by a family and has been there for nearly 70 years. That old-world feel is evident on the doors — which still have original room numbers from Marilyn Monroe’s honeymoon stay — and Winston Churchill’s room still has many of the original accents (with a private pool to boot).

The Manual interviewed owner Eric Morrow to discuss what separates Jamaica Inn from other properties, their role in the evolution of Ocho Rios, and their passionate responsibility to save coral, turtles, and the environment.

The Manual: What makes Jamaica Inn different from other destinations in Jamaica?

Eric Morrow: Having been family owned since 1950, guests of the Jamaica Inn have long enjoyed the ultimate amenity: The personalized service of the dedicated staff who call Jamaica Inn home. To know them is to be reassured that good manners are not a lost art and that no request is too small, no smile too large.

TM: How has family played a role in the evolution of Jamaica Inn?

EM: Family is the basis of the Inn. It was the foundation of why the hotel was opened and is a fundamental part of the staff culture. We have a large cohort of staff members who have been here for 30 years or more. They have intentionally spent their careers here because they feel that this is genuinely their home and they enjoy being a part of a company that offers guests an alternative to the busyness of life. Extended guests have become a part of our family and they bring their families to experience all the Inn has to offer.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

TM: What have been the biggest changes? And what are some of the most important details you want to keep?

EM: Over the years, we’ve lovingly maintained a lot of the architectural structure; however, we’ve made updates recently improving the fixtures and furnishings in all our cottages and adding a saltwater sea bath at the spa.

Some of the biggest changes have not been aesthetic but internal software, etc. We must adhere to our traditional charm while making strides in technology to facilitate forward-moving departments on the back end.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

TM: There is a big effort to continue growing healthy coral — tell us more about that initiative?

EM: Jamaica Inn is not only blessed with a stunning 700-foot beach, but beneath the glistening waters of the private enclave fronting the resort, lies an underwater reef estimated to be thousands of years old. While this reef is only a fringing reef, it is absolutely ideal for snorkeling and provides a great backdrop for guests to view marine life. The Jamaica Inn Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides education and wellbeing support to our island youth and aids with the ongoing preservation of our marine environs, in tandem with the newly instituted White River Fish Sanctuary. The Foundation spearheads a number of initiatives, including warden fish monitoring and coral transplanting, that will help to preserve this natural habitat and to provide further education and awareness for our future generations. The mission statement of the stakeholders who are involved in this initiative is “500 in 5,” which simply means that the intention and mission will be to have 500 percent more fish in five years. We’ve only just begun our efforts to preserve and maintain the biomass in the surrounding areas but already we’ve seen a marked improvement in the number of fish, coral cultivation, and marine life in the surrounding areas.

TM: Tell us about the resort’s initiative to maintain the turtle population.

EM: From July to November each year, sea turtles travel to Jamaica Inn’s beach and nearby Oracabessa beach to lay their eggs during turtle hatching season. Our Watersports Manager, Mr. Ovan Coombs, is a certified Wildlife Game Warden and takes the lead in finding, monitoring, and protecting nests and rescuing nests which are threatened. Ovan has become the ‘Turtle Whisperer’ of The Inn and has experienced more than 5,000 turtle hatchings. With Ovan, guests are able to experience the miracle of watching and helping to ensure that a nest of baby turtles (on average 100 turtles per nest) make their safe passage to sea. To date, we have facilitated the release of approximately 15,000 Hawksbill turtle hatchings.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

TM: Tell us about the rich history — some of the most famous guests.

=EM: Jamaica Inn quickly became the 1950’s jetsetter destination for Hollywood aristocracy partying with British nobility. The Inn has hosted Errol Flynn, who owned a property in Port Antonio; Noël Coward, who built and owned two vacation homes in the nearby town of Oracabessa — one of which is “Firefly;” Vivian Leigh; Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller; Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, and artist and stage designer Oliver Messel.

Sir Winston Churchill also frequented the Inn and ended up painting a scene of the hotel, now owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Churchill was partial to the White Suite and today a plaque sits at the entrance of the suite to commemorate his visit. In addition to these famous names, Jamaica Inn has played host to several international heads of state as well as Jamaican Prime Ministers over the years.

Jamaica Inn was mentioned many times in Noël Coward’s autobiography, The Noël Coward Diaries. For example, Coward writes about a dinner at Jamaica Inn with his best friend in February 1951, and the following day about dining at the hotel with another good friend, Oliver Messel. There are several more mentions of the hotel throughout the book, wherein Coward meets friends for meals or to drive them to the airport after a stay.

TM: What is your team like? You have some members who have worked at The Jamaica Inn for decades.

EM: The Staff at Jamaica Inn are the most gracious in all the Caribbean. Many have been around a quarter of a century or more, so comfort and service reign in this spectacular setting. In fact, Teddy Tucker has been working with us since 1958. In 2016, we celebrated Teddy with a special dedication service, naming the Beach Bar, “Teddy’s Bar,” in his honor. Good manners and attentiveness are not a lost art. No request is too small for a Jamaica Inn guest.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

TM: What about Shadow?

EM: Shadow is our resident dog who gets her name from a long-standing history of several black Labradors who have been part of the Inn over the years — Shadow resided in the 1970s, Shadow II in the 1980s and Shadow III became part of the family from early 1990 to 2004. In the spring of 2014, we welcomed Shadow IV who loves being a part of the Jamaica Inn family and guest experience.

TM: There are no televisions in the room — which is an interesting move — but makes the stay very peaceful. Was that intentional?

EM: Yes, this was intentional. With no television, radio, or clocks in-room, guests can relax and detach from the frantic pace of everyday life and be at one with nature. The ever-present breeze filters through shutters, and for the occasional lull, ceiling fans and air conditioning provide year-round comfort, as well as peace of mind.

Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn

TM: What do you love about Jamaica and what do you want guests to take away after staying at your hotel?

EM: While more than 50 years have passed, the experience, setting, and many of the staff at Jamaica Inn remain the same. Our small luxury hotel continues to be a place of relaxed glamour and timeless elegance. Here, you will always find a peaceful, private haven.

To learn more about the Jamaica Inn, or to book a stay, visit its website.

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