St Mary travel com­pany mak­ing waves

Jamaica Gleaner - - RURAL EXPRESS - Orantes Moore Gleaner Writer ru­ral@glean­ ru­ral@glean­

ORACABESSA, St Mary: THE RU­RAL vil­lage of Oracabessa, St Mary may be an un­usual set­ting for one of the coun­try’s lead­ing on­line com­pa­nies, but thanks to the ben­e­fit of In­ter­net tech­nol­ogy, busi­ness own­ers are no longer re­stricted to the cor­po­rate ar­eas when de­cid­ing where to set up shop.

Va­ca­tion ex­pert Sharon Sher­iff-White, who is orig­i­nally from Kingston, first came to St Mary in the early 1990s, work­ing for the Su­perClubs group at the Beaches re­sort in Bosco­bel. Twenty-five years later, she still op­er­ates in the tourism sec­tor, but now runs Ja­maica’s only com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in river and ocean cruises.

Speak­ing last week to Ru­ral Xpress, Sher­iff-White ex­plained how she evolved from train­ing ho­tel staff on the north coast to man­ag­ing a com­pany that co­or­di­nates hol­i­days and ex­cur­sions for clients from as far as Saudi Ara­bia.

“I was born in St An­drew and came to St Mary be­cause of the ho­tel in­dus­try, but stayed be­cause of love,” she gig­gled. “I started out in the 1990s in hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment train­ing back in the days of Ho­tel Oceana, which was down­town Kingston at the wa­ter­front, and ‘the’ ho­tel at the time.

“I tran­si­tioned to the all-in­clu­sives such

Sharon Sher­iff-White as Su­perClubs, and then into tours and trans­lat­ing Span­ish. But around eight years ago, an old in­jury flared up, which pre­vented me from be­ing more mo­bile, and so I de­vel­oped an agency model and started sell­ing pack­ages from home.

“In Jan­uary 2016, we started Sher­iFun­tas­tic Trav­els and Re­sorts Ltd, which is a travel com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in cruises, re­sort pack­ages, and ex­cur­sions. Now, I have a store­front, but we are 100 per cent In­ter­net-based.

“We spe­cialise in the Nor­we­gian, Royal Caribbean, and MSE cruise lines, and have part­nered with some of the strong­est brands, in­clud­ing Car­ni­val Cruise Line, Princess, Ama Wa­ter­ways, Avalon, and Vik­ing. Maybe 95 per cent of the clients we ser­vice come from out­side of St Mary and 65 per cent are in­ter­na­tional. In terms of busi­ness, the In­ter­net has re­ally changed every­thing.”

Sheri-Fun­tas­tic Trav­els and Re­sorts re­cently be­came the ex­clu­sive lo­cal agent for Love and Har­mony, a five-night cruise, which sails from Mi­ami on 27 Fe­bru­ary 2017; docks two days later for a party in Ocho Rios; and is head­lined by reg­gae acts such as Beres Ham­mond, Third World, and Queen Ifrica.

Sher­iff-White be­lieves that by fo­cus­ing on niche as­pects of the tourism in­dus­try, her com­pany can be­come a ma­jor player in the highly com­pet­i­tive Ja­maican mar­ket and sug­gests that clever hol­i­day­mak­ers search­ing for on­line bar­gains should leave the book­ing process to experts.

She ex­plained: “We are trained, cer­ti­fied, and have di­rect con­nec­tions with the cruise lines. We like to tell peo­ple the In­ter­net was made for search­ing and agen­cies were made for book­ing. Spend as lit­tle time as you need to on­line be­cause the in­for­ma­tion is over­whelm­ing. Speak to a spe­cial­ist who will guide and match ex­actly what you need with the right prod­uct. Don’t spend too much time hunt­ing.”

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