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One Love Rentals targeting Russian tourists

Alexis Monteith
Observer writer

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

With the number of Russian tourists arriving to Jamaica steadily increasing, two Ukrainian entrepreneurs based in Montego Bay are working to meet the unique needs of these visitors to the island.

Nadiya Andrus and Kseniia Khodina started a company a year ago called One Love Rentals, which began as a consultancy helping local property owners to promote their homes on Internet travel sites such as Airbnb, Expedia and HomeAway.

Since its inception in 2017 One Love Rentals has rapidly expanded its role, with the two 37-year-old women creating unique vacation experiences for travellers to the island. It began as a service they offered primarily to North American visitors staying in local vacation homes, but their Russian connections, knowledge of the Russian language, and an awareness of what Eastern European tourists expect from a vacation meant they eventually made significant inroads into the Russian market.

Andrus first came to Jamaica in 2009 on a work trip. At first her time on the island was all job related, as she took up a position with a company operating a call centre in Montego Bay; but she eventually fell in love with the country and became a frequent visitor. Her travels were not limited to Jamaica however, as she explored many other countries around the globe.

“I stayed in many vacation homes, which I booked through Airbnb,” she explains. “And it was during these travels that I started making notes and comparisons about all the apartments and homes I stayed in ­– what made them unique or attractive, what made one home much better than the other as a vacation accommodation.”

By the time Andrus decided to start One Love Rentals she was well versed in the business of booking apartments and houses online and was able to bring that knowledge to her new company.

But it didn't stop there. One Love Rentals handled interior decoration for clients, sourced staff for cleaning services, handled maintenance, and advised guests on which attractions to visit.

Upon starting the company Andrus was joined by Khodina, her childhood friend and a former executive working for Nestle in the Ukraine. Like Nadia, she had spent most of her vacation time travelling the world and exploring unique locations.

The two female entrepreneurs discovered quite early that it was the tailoring of unique vacation packages and tour solutions that was swiftly growing their business. They also realised that more Russians were visiting Jamaica through cruises and via various European airlines.

“We would be constantly running into Russian tourists as we walked along the hip strip,” Kseniia noted. “We thought we should try to reach Russian travellers while they were still in their own country planning their vacations. We set up an Instagram account called RussianJamaica and we became very active in Russian travel forums.”

The strategy became so successful that some of their articles and writing tips on how to travel in Jamaica went viral on the Russian Internet. They published articles on the best places to visit and even did videos about route taxis, JUTA taxis, and travelling on the Knutsford Express.

This Internet success did not happen by accident.

Both Andrus and Khodina were born in a part of Ukraine located only 30 minutes away from the Russian border. Khodina is Ukrainian but born to Russian parents. Their education in that part of the country was essentially Russian. Their cultural background made it easy to understand the needs and expectations of Russian travelers.

Many Russian tourists visiting Jamaica do not speak English. One Love Rentals is therefore able to fulfill an essential need by providing a wealth of information about the island, in the Russian language, to travellers before they even land in Jamaica. The company also understands that Russian tourists love to walk and explore, they love history, and they love meaningful personal experiences.

It naturally follows that One Love Rentals often receives unique requests like visits to Maroon towns, ecotourism tours, safari-type trips, and visits to luxury villas. Guests have even asked for teachers to instruct them in the latest dancehall moves. They want to stop at local markets to buy tropical fruits, and they crave authentic craft items and souvenirs while avoiding foreign-made ones.

The company helps them organise these visits and trips and often provies translators and personal guides to accompany them.

Armed with an in-depth knowledge of the Russian travel market, Nadia Andrus and Kseniia Khodina no longer just cater to guests staying in vacation homes, they are contacted by Russian cruise ship passengers and travellers staying in the island's large hotels before they embark on their trips to Jamaica or immediately after they arrive.

In a busy 10-day period recently they received more than 120 calls from Russian visitors looking for an amazing Jamaican experience or just travel advice. Russians now make up approximately 25 per cent of One Love Rental's client base.

Within the last month a new seasonal flight from Russia has started operating and recently, the governments of Jamaica and Russia signed a reciprocal visa waiver agreement. The signs point to greater travel between the two countries and more tourism arrivals from Russia.