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Chukka selling fun with facts at Seville

Chukka Caribbean, which operates tour attractions, received three planning approvals to deepen its heritage eco-tourism operations at Seville in St Ann. In fact, Seville is the area where Tainos met Europeans and Africans.

The company started operating there a year ago, but on a light basis, according to management.

The planning approvals from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) will allow the hospitality company to double down on repackaging Seville’s unique history and sights with more tour packages for travellers.

Patrons will go for the activities, but then Chukka will share the history, said CEO Marc Melville in explaining the concept.

“The average guest doesn’t know about Seville’s importance, but that will change as we ramp up,” Melville stated in a Sunday Business interview.

“Presently, we are operating two nature adventure activities with a very light footprint on the site in and around the ruins,” he stated.

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) lists Seville Heritage Park as one of 23 tours surrounding historical sites across the island. The remit of JNHT includes the preservation of historic structures.

At the venue, the company operates a “safari” tour where guests ride all-terrain-vehicles or ATV bikes, with the option of going horseback riding through the estate, which sits along the coastline. Seville mixes nature, history, and adventure.

With regard to whether the location is profitable, Melville said that the “site cannot reach its potential until we complete [it]”.

Chukka Caribbean operates in five territories – Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Barbados, and Grand Turk. It operates 85 tours, according to reports. The company started in the 1980s when founder and patriarch Danny Melville expanded his weekend polo matches to allow tourists to ride horses.

In November, Chukka received planning approvals to operate a nature-based attraction, a beach licence, and the ability to set up a fuel tank or ‘hydrocarbon storage’, presumably for the ATVs.

“As you know it is a very sensitive site due to its significance to Jamaican history not to mention the dozens of ruins that are speckled throughout the property,” stated Melville.

Over time, Chukka will continue to bring the site alive by highlighting the history and telling the story of Seville to all visitors, added Melville.

“We will continue to get the requisite approvals along the way,” he said. “We will be working very closely with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust to ensure that we are aligned with their vision for the property.”

The area holds importance as one of the first meeting grounds between different ethnicities previously divided by oceans. A millennium ago, the Taino developed settlements in the area, with Europeans entering five centuries later. In 1509, the Spanish settled in the area and called it Sevilla la Nueva (New Seville).

“It was located near the Taino Village of Maima and is the site of one of the first encounters between the peoples of the Americas, Africa, and Europe,” according to Chukka site information on the area.

The settlement included the first church and sugar mill in Jamaica as well as a castle and artist’s workshop. It was later relocated closer to the sea by Spanish Governor, Francisco de Gary (around 1518), who simplified the name to Sevilla or Seville, the site added.

Chukka is a private entity. However, Pan Jamaica Group Limited holds a chunk of the entity following an equity deal in 2012 that resulted in an initial 20 per cent acquisition, which was later reduced to 15 per cent.

In its latest 2022 annual financials, Pan Jamaica indicated that its tourism and hospitality segment, which encompasses Chukka, also includes its Courtyard by Marriott Kingston hotel and the then July 2022-opened ROK hotel in downtown Kingston. The segment earned $1 billion in revenue from Pan Jamaica shareholders from $524 million a year earlier. The assets under that tourism segment equate $3.3 billion or roughly the same when compared to the $3.4 billion a year earlier.

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