It’s called initiative. It is, therefore, no surprise this Jamaican tourism and travel expert oversees five- star, luxury hotel standards for an entire continent – the Americas.A long established maverick, Black, tells his truth with authority and without equivocation. His e-mails are not garnished. No greeting. No salutation. He gets right to the point.
Skilled in hilarious repartee, this Renaissance-man is the one you want to sit beside at your boss’s dinner party. And if the party should be dampened by an un-timely tussle between the host and her petulant teen-age daughter, he is the one to resuscitate the event with a fast pull on his humour trigger. It matters not if you are in the mood to laugh, he will ferret out your giggle button, and he will push it.
“I am a jovial, happy person…I don’t know, I just find laughter in just about every and anything. Although people say I shouldn’t, I laugh at my own jokes and I talk a lot.”
There is nothing wrong with being loquacious. “Hey, don’t use no big word to mi, man,” he responds, his trademark chortle to boot.
Black, who spent his early years using hotel lobbies as his playground in Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s north coast, directs development for Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) for the Americas. He says in his industry, luxury is the new black. No pun intended.
“Luxury travel is the way to go…people’s demands are higher, they expect more…much more, and when they travel they want all the comforts and pleasures of home and some,” he cites.
He points to the incorporation of technology and its trappings of convenience and mobility as an imperative part of the tourist’s definition of this neo-luxury. “Syncing your ipod, laptop, and television in your suite with one button is not only central, but offers ease of use and this is exactly what people want…no hassle… with anything, especially when they are on vacation.”
A fourteen year veteran in the business of hospitality, he spends the bulk of his professional life scouting exotic destinations, and schooling unsubscribed hoteliers in the art of sizzling their steak with the SLH recipe. When he is not doing that, the quality control doyen is inspecting member properties to secure their comportment with his company’s world-recognized signature to exclusivity. And when he is not doing that, Black is viral-marketing the SLH dogma at some of the world’s most prestigious travel and tourism tradeshows: from Berlin’s ITB to London’s World Travel Market to Travel Industry Association hooplas in the US.
Despite the globe-trotting nature of his career, the type-A business developer – who credits Jamaican hotel guru, Butch Stewart, for teaching him “everything” he knows – manages to keep his fingers on the pulse of visitor trends in the Caribbean. And in response to the recent World Tourism Organization’s report indicating a .9 per cent decrease in arrivals to the region regardless of the overall 6 per cent increase recorded globally, he advises:
“We need to get back to basics…when I was growing up in Jamaica, there was a time when tourists came for a month…and the hotels always had a black-tie, ballroom affair feel…that changed over the years and I would like to see more of that…I’d like to see us concentrate a lot more on the individual, the guest…like we used to.”
He has more.
“The Caribbean has always had ‘it’…we have always managed to let people go back home and brag to their friends about their experiences…but we just need to focus on the experience and not only on the service.”
While he firmly holds that experience does not trump service, he carefully reveals his idea of ultimate luxury lies at the pinnacle of a unique combination of both, which in the end, solidifies the experience. “For me it’s not so much about the thread count…or the Egytian cotton…it’s more about the destination and what it offers outside of the traditional service…I mean, Safari’s in Africa are now offering luxurious tents, set up in the middle of nowhere, with five-star butler service…that is amazing.”
As expected, he is not finished.
“One of my best experiences so far is my tour of the Machu Picchu ruins…”
The ruins of Machu Picchu, which means ‘Old Peak’ in Peru’s Quechua language, are now the extraordinarily preserved remnants of the splendour and architectural genius of the Inca civilization. “You can read about this in books and see it on TV but that cannot duplicate that experience…there is a certain energy up there…awesome, so much history.”
There are times when Black doffs his funny hat. He becomes solemn every time he talks about loss and tragedy. And he has some. Very personal ones.
“Although we were not that close, my parents divorced when I was very young, he was always there…and when I think about it, I don’t know…it does something to me.”
He is talking about the passing of his dad last year. His father, Dr. Noel Black, was a fixture on the Ocho Rios scene back in the 1970s and 1980s and gave David his first introduction to the vicissitudes of hotel operations. “He worked at local hotels on Sundays treating tourists for sun-burns, rashes…,” and other symptoms of over-indulgence. “He would take me with him and that was where my interest in the industry started.”
And when he speaks of his struggle to earn the respect of his colleagues in the early days of his sales practice with Sandals resorts, he trades in risible riposte and becomes somber.
“I always had to work that much harder…I had to be better because I knew what people thought of me.”
As an entertainment coordinator with the chain of Caribbean resorts, David, a critical thinker, quickly found an opportunity to excel and did something about it. “I wanted to be in sales…I followed all the avenues of HR but that got me nowhere…I knew I had to find a way to get in front of Mr. Stewart.” And once he did, Stewart, famous for spotting talent gave him the green-light. As his promotion came with the direct blessing of the Chairman, gratuitous bantering about the integrity of his position was constantly thrown his way. There were rumours that his climb was seated exclusively in nepotism.
“Although they did not say it to my face then, I found out years later they thought I would not make it past six months.”
This audacious thirty-one year old not only made it past six months, he played a vital role in lead generation and leveraging the Sandals brand in any territory he worked throughout the US, until he parted company with the organization four years ago.
He is no neophyte to being far away from home. At ten years old, Black entered the Oratory boarding school in England, which is listed among the most revered academic institutions in Western Europe. With his family across the Atlantic, he was forced to make formative decisions much earlier than most. “Sending me away to school is one of the best things my mother did for me…I could not run home to mommy every time I had a problem…I learned to figure things out on my own very early.”
David travels to more countries than he can count and sleeps in more hotel beds than there are days in the year. And, in his bed, there is ample space, at the moment. He explains.
“I can never get into a woman’s head…you can never figure them out…I’ve tried several times and failed several times…I always want to know what they are thinking…I think I’ll die trying.”
He lets out a guffaw, champing at the bit to talk more about this, a subject he says fascinates him.
“I like to look at a beautiful woman, I mean, who doesn’t…but that is completely different from being sexy,” he says as though any other view is nothing short of travesty.
“Beauty is completely out the window,” he says, “if she is not smart, motivated…I like it when she’s educated…when she’s across the room, we should be able to carry each other, without always being with each other…it can’t be all about the hair and make-up.”
Black is professionally trained in the culinary arts, and of course, he has no reservations about cooking for his nearest and dearest. “She must love to eat because I love to cook…this is why vegetarians don’t appeal to me…she must be able to try just about anything,” he declares categorically.
That is not the only thing that David finds unappealing. Apart from politics, in a tone that signals his annoyance by mere mention of the idea, he explains the other thing that sends him scrambling for the door. “I hate when she whines…nags!”
D, or D.Black, the names he is given by friends – at least the ones who have not “distorted” his name “completely” – is himself, an extemporaneous adventurer. He therefore finds compatibility with a woman who is “not afraid to get on a plane with me and travel… anywhere…experience the outdoors, history, culture, the food that place has to offer.”
“My ideal date is really very simple…it doesn’t have to be an expensive restaurant…as long as it’s a unique experience, something different.”
Black’s ideal date is not complete without one thing.
“Great wine!” he exclaims.
A peek into David’s (eye)candy jar:
Height – 6ft 3”
Eyes – Green
Shoe size – 12
Weight – 195 lbs (he pumps iron)
Birthday – September 13
Sign – Virgo
Wine not beer
Boxers not briefs
Sports car not pick-up
Kissing style- Tilt right
That immediately explains why, at any given soiree, you will spot him in the company of a grand cru filled with a vintner’s choice of the rouge variety. And flipping through his photographs turns up the odd candid, donned in his penguin suit, puffing on a Belicoso that appears to have its roots on a Spanish island 90 miles north of Jamaica.
He fondly relays memories of such unique dates at movies in the parks in New York, where he lived and worked for several years.
One of the reasons his uncle, Ged, is his hero is seated in Black’s definition of true love. “Here is a man who had everything going for him… his wife became terminally ill and before she passed he gave it all up and dedicated his life to care for her…with no regrets…and never complained…this kind of dedication, to one person is remarkable and I have the greatest respect and admiration for him.” By the time he is through listing the virtues of true love, you definitely want Uncle Ged to be your hero too.
Apart from a spare tire and maybe his golf shoes, you will find nothing in the trunk of David’s car. No evidence from his wild night out the night before, not even a candy wrapper. His inherent desire for order has led his friends to liken him to Adrian Monk, protagonist of the ABC series of the said name. “But that is not true,” he swears. “I am not that bad!”
They also say he is uptight, fussy, and worries too much. “…I don’t know, I am just particular about certain things…everything has a place and there’s a place for everything.” And some say he is so intense, he is a border-line bully. With friends like those, who needs enemies?
Black currently lives in South Florida, but has never really left home. “The Caribbean is in my heart…I definitely want to move back…”
His kind of sexy is definitely underscored by his passion – for professional excellence, for his family, friends, and for life.
P.S. He is of no relation to Conrad.
Raquel Ingram is a writer and PR specialist living in Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org