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Postage sheetlets honor Issa family

In September 2004, the Jamaican government released a series of stamp sheetlets featuring people who have distinguished themselves in their contributions to the country’s tourism industry. The series commemorate the centennial of the Jamaica Hotel Law, a 1904 act that provided incentives for hotel construction and stimulated the development of tourism.

The stamps feature two Holy Cross alumni: the late Abraham “Abe” Issa ’26, first chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), and his nephew John Issa ’60, chairman of SuperClubs and former chairman of the JTB. This marks the first time in Jamaica’s stamp history that an uncle and nephew have been featured on a single sheetlet.

Other notable people on the stamp series include Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of the Sandals Group and former member of the JTB, and Ralph Lauren, chairman and chief executive officer of Polo Ralph Lauren and philanthropist of Jamaican causes.

Abe Issa, along with his father and brother, was part of what people consider “the most powerful dynasty in the Caribbean .” The Issa family owned retail stores, real estate, movie theaters, hotels and car dealerships throughout Jamaica . Today, the Issa name remains well known all over the island.

Hailed as “the father of Jamaican tourism,” Abe Issa’s foray into the tourism business began in 1943 with the purchase of the Myrtle Bank Hotel. Based on its great success, five years later Issa built Tower Isle Resort Ocho Rios, the first resort on Jamaica’s undeveloped north coast. The resort flourished and attracted many celebrity guests during the 1950s, most notably Debbie Reynolds, Vincent Price and Eva Gabor.

In 1978, after over 30 years in the hotel business, Issa introduced the luxury resort concept for couples only. At that time, Tower Isle Resort was renamed Couples, and t oday the Issa family owns three Couples resorts on the island. For his success in raising international awareness of Jamaican vacations to tourists, Abe Issa has become known as “Mr. Jamaica.”

Following in his uncle’s footsteps, John Issa also became an influential figure in the Jamaican tourism industry. He began his career working alongside Abe as a shareholder and director of the family company. Upon Abe’s death, John succeeded him as the director of the family’s hotels in 1961.

John Issa is known as the pioneer of the all-inclusive resort concept, introducing the first such hotel on the island with the development of Negril Beach Village Resort in 1976 (now Hedonism II). Issa’s aim was to offer tourists vacations with no hidden costs. This promise has drawn visitors from around the world. From Hedonism II, Issa launched the SuperClubs group of 16 all-inclusive hotel properties in Jamaica, Curacao, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

With over 40 years of experience in the tourism industry, Issa has earned numerous awards for his innovative efforts, including the rank of Commander in Jamaica’s Order of Merit; the Caribbean Hotel Association’s “Caribbean Hotelier of the Year” award, and the honor of “Man of the Decade,” by Investor’s Choice Magazine. Issa is a director of Grace, Kennedy & Co. Ltd. As well as a director on the board of the Jamaica Stock Exchange. He served as president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and chairman of several organizations, including the JTB.

 

As to seeing his own face on a postage stamp, Issa remarks, “It is very satisfying and gratifying to know that my contributions to my country’s development have been recognized.”

Looking ahead, Issa plans to develop new brands and varieties of hotels to enhance further Jamaica’s tourism industry, while continuing to speak out on matters of concern to the country.

The Issa family has a long tradition at Holy Cross. In addition to Abraham and John, graduates include John’s father Joseph ’27; brothers Richard ’50 and Francis ’59; children Joseph J. ’88, Muna ’89 and Zein ’89; and nephews Christopher ’78, John A. ’72 and S(alvador) Jose ’77.

Since its establishment by the Jamaican government 50 years ago, a member of the Issa family—and a Holy Cross graduate—has served on or chaired the JTB during every decade except the 1990s. Currently, Issa’s daughter Zein serves as a member.

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