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Her passion had always been for cooking, Caribbean dishes in particular and after a long career in corporate America as a tax accountant, Jacqueline Cort-Thomas returned to the classroom to learn the science of food. The idea was to build a business that provided private catering for high-end clients in New York City, but after an internship at the famous W Hotel in New York she decided to go into the hotel trade.

“I was so impressed with the boldness of colours used in the rooms, the welcoming service offered by the staff, and the feeling of being pampered in someone’s home,” she said. “And at that moment, I decided to duplicate such a property in Antigua where I grew up.”

Birthing the Vision
Jacquline was so ‘wowed’ by her experience at the W Hotel, it became the inspiration behind her vision of a 10-room, Caribbean-inspired property, that would also wow it’sits guests. In 2007, the Government of Antigua were offering concessions for the construction of small properties during Cricket World Cup which would enable the purchase of building supplies, furniture and fixtures tax free. Naturally, Jacquline saw this as her opportunity to make her vision a reality and in 2009, two years after purchasing land with her sister and business partner, Villas at Sunset Lane opened its doors.

As the new kid on the block, Cort-Thomas shared that her welcome wasn’t warm from the other hoteliers on the island.

“No one extended a hand to me,” she said.  “It was a lonely path; I felt push back and in one case outright animosity, but I ignored it, worked around it, and moved forward.” 

Despite this, Jaqueline proved her critics wrong by winning numerous industry awards, including some from global travel site Expedia and the Antigua Tourist Board. These proved her credible, and earned her critics’ respect.

A Decade Strong. What Next?
This year Villas at Sunset Lane celebrates a decade in operation, and Jacqueline is focused on expanding to a 15-room property that can compete against the disruption that she has faced since Air BnB has entered into the hotel industry.

“Airbnb have done an excellent job in forcing prices down, so more hotels are available to individuals unable or willing to pay higher prices for the wonderful service they would receive,” she said. “That has impacted me, so I’ve had to change, or else I’d end up being a dinosaur.”

Jaqueline’s changing her strategy focusing on the group travel market in order to compete more effectively with the Airbnb.

“I’ll be positive and say I believe this will take off, which will then provide the additional revenue to build out the extra rooms I need for the expansion,” she said.

What’s the Takeaway?
For those considering having a go at entrepreneurship:

  • Have a clear vision and a detailed plan of how to execute it;
  • Do not rely on external forces to provide the encouragement or motivation you need to keep going;
  • Ensure there is enough flexibility within that plan to enable you to make adjustments necessary for continued growth and success;
  • and finally, ensure what you’re offering is unique.

Antigua has no shortage of hotels, but what separates Villas at Sunset Lane from the others says Jacqueline, is the ambiance, purpose-built, large rooms on a property providing a quiet, pampered environment, where the owner, a trained chef, fuses Caribbean and international flavours for an unforgettable epicurean experience.

Visit the We-Xport booth at Bmex, in June 2019, to learn more about Villas at Sunset.

Take a virtual tour and find out more at: www.villasatsunsetlane.com and @loveVSLAntigua on Facebook and Instagram.