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Defiant!

Portland hotel ignores health authority's order, still open for business

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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A January order by the North East Regional Health Authority (NERHA) for operators to shut down business at Fern Hill Club in Port Antonio, Portland, has been ignored by men who recently leased the facility, as they continue to accept bookings.

Last Wednesday, a team from the Jamaica Observer went undercover as administrators of a church seeking to book the facility for a camping excursion, following the complaint of a man who, in an Observer story earlier this month, said that he was scammed.

The man, Andrew McCarthy, had made reservations for the hotel in December, but was not aware that it had closed more than four years ago.

McCarthy, who is originally from St James, said that he relied on the site Bookings.com to make accommodation arrangements, “as the site has always proved to be reliable”.

However, after visiting the address listed for the property on the website, he said he realised that he had been scammed.

“I relied on the photos of the pool and the exterior of the property. The Booking.com site had only two reviews, as the location was added to its room inventory on the fifth of December. The reviews were rated 10 and seven, out of a possible 10. I made the booking, with the thought that Portland rooms are not usually the most comfortable, but expected the hotel to have the basic conveniences,” McCarthy said then.

He said that he called the number on the reservation, which indicated that “Johnny” would answer any queries a few days before the date of stay, to confirm he and his guests were still expected. He said that the trio left Montego Bay after work and arrived at the place at 10:00 pm.

“...When we arrived at the hotel there was almost a total absence of exterior lighting, and Johnny met us with a flashlight. At this point we knew that something was wrong, but [we] also knew that it would be impossible to find another room at this time of night in the holiday season and that the other option was to sleep in the car, so we decided to stay for the night,” he said.

According to him, the lighting in the room was poor and he had to request nails to keep the old wooden shutters closed, as most of the latches were broken. He said that he paid Johnny the agreed rate for the night, which was US$99, and was offered a welcome drink, which, he said, was a small bottle of rum cream. Added to that, he said that the bathroom smelt of sewage, which he theorised was probably due to bad plumbing, so the group decided not to chance taking a shower. The interior of the bathroom cupboards, he further said, were termite-infested, rotted and had construction material, while the beds smelt mouldy and the room was in need of cleaning. Additionally, he stated that during the night, he heard a sound in the bathroom and saw a huge rat on a glue trap.

The Jamaica Tourist Board then confirmed with the Observer that the hotel was not recorded as operational and that it was not on its licensing list.

The Observer team arrived at the ramshackle property shortly after 10:00 am and was greeted by an order from the Portland Health Department taped to the gate. It read: “The premises known as Fern Hill operated by Johnny Armstrong located at San San is ordered closed by the medical officer (health) under the Public Health Act and Public Health Tourist Establishment Regulations 2000 for the contravention of said regulations. These premises shall remain closed until further notice.”

Despite that order, a man, who gave his name as Dr Aubrey Oliver, said that arrangements could be made for accommodation, which could begin this week despite the appearance of the buildings that looked as if they had not been painted in years. The grounds were overgrown with bush and the pool — though most of the water at the shallow end had been drained — had water which settled and appeared green with insects. Morass covered some areas of the property, while the paint on other sections had begun to strip.

The Observer team asked to view more of the property described by Oliver as “rustic” but was more rundown, and was alarmed to see the condition of the bedrooms and bathrooms. Nevertheless, Oliver said that tourists enjoyed it there, though he admitted that the facility needed renovation.

“Since it is set up this way we get a lot of hikers who don't really care about the presentation right now. One guy had come from Montego Bay. I guess he saw the picture of the buildings and stuff on Bookings.com and then he and his family were disappointed. I guess they thought that the place was ready so they had kind of complained. We had offered them back their money but I don't think they took it. He came with an intention of luxury and it's not ready for that,” said Oliver, who added that he and his business partner Johnny had leased the abandoned hotel, perched on the hillside, in November 2017.

“My partner has actually gone to England to secure funds, but for camping we have grounds by the front. There is 10 acres of it. I would think that for the camping it is okay because it's not like you want to stay in the rooms and stuff. You could utilise the front area,” the man, who said he is a physician, disclosed, even as he assured that 10 rooms were available to the camping group if needed.

He also said that potable water and electricity were available at the property and that he would put in the request for Internet, but that the group would have to find its own food.

Asked about security, he said that the undercover team would have to hire security and said that he would inform of the cost at a later date.

When contacted Tuesday, Oliver told the Observer that he was not taking bookings despite what was uncovered.

The man also chided the newspaper, arguing that the previous article was “a bit irresponsible, because no investigation was done”.

When asked about the licence he should have, given that he had booked McCarthy and his family in December, he said that he had no licence.

This was despite Bookings.com insisting that all its clients had to have a licence to advertise on their website.

Oliver then said that the advertisement was done, without his knowledge, by a woman who cleans the property.

Bookings.com has since removed Fern Hill Club from its listings.

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