John Byles and Marc Melville - Hospitality Jamaica Personalities of the Year 2017
Camille Miller, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
At first glance, the mild mannered pair of Marc Melville and his childhood buddy, John Byles could be excused as your typical nine-to-five guys with hardly a care other than the chores at hand.
A closer look, however, tells a different story ... a far different story. They are a stickler for perfection and Melville and Byles are not your ordinary Joes.
They are the leaders of one of the biggest and most successful tourism enterprises in the region - a quality attraction of the highest order and better known to the world as Chukka or by extension, Chukka Caribbean Adventures.
But how did it all start?
"The inspiration for Chukka sprang from my father's passion for polo," Melville, the company's director of group revenue and new development, explained.
"In the early 1980s, my father, Danny Melville, hosted polo matches on Saturdays at his polo field in Ocho Rios while on Sundays. To help the horses relax, the polo players took the horses swimming in the clear saltwater of Mammee Bay. International polo players loved the tradition, as did John and my other two brothers, Alexander and Daniel, and an idea was born."
Melville said that when his father opened a polo and equestrian centre for locals in 1983, he also decided to complement it with an opportunity for tourists to encounter horses.
"The combination of the scenic ride along a spectacular coast and a thrilling swim on horseback proved to be a launching pad for the company," he added.
FIRST ADVENTURE OF ITS KIND
"The Horseback Ride 'N' Swim was born - the first adventure tour of its kind in Jamaica, and 34 years later, still one of our signature tours."
Byles, the company's CEO, who describes Chukka as an attraction that captures the spirit of adventure and excitement inherent in the game of polo and the childlike wonder inspired by a swimming horse, fondly remembers an incident he shared with Melville.
"I still can recall our first jeep tour," he noted. "It was a carefully planned, exciting off-road ride into the jungle, over rivers, and into the wildlife. As the jeep ventured across one river, we realised, just a moment too late, that the recent rains had left the water level a bit too high. The jeep stalled mid-river, and with water reaching the doors. Marc and I were forced to climb out the jeep windows to push the jeep and passengers to the far shore. The guests, however, loved it and thanked us for a truly exhilarating tour."
Today, Chukka operates over 60 tours in Jamaica, Belize and Turks & Caicos. It is also one of the largest employers of persons in the Caribbean, employing over 700, including over 500 in Jamaica alone.
"We pride ourselves on our meritocracy where we provide everyone with opportunities for education and advancement," Melville added.
The two were recognised at the annual RJRGleaner Communications Group, Hospitality Jamaica Awards at the Montego Bay Convention Centre on Saturday, November 11.