Despite Crime, State of Emergency and Travel Advisories Tourism Minister Tells Travel Trade, Jamaica No Problem

To hear Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett tell it, the industry is healthy and growing. In 2017 Jamaica’s tourist industry experienced “phenomenal growth,” Minister Bartlett told a group of more than 30 travel writers and other journalists assembled at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan for Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2018, an annual gathering of regional tourism VIPs.

edbartlett“We broke all records,” Bartlett said of the performance of Jamaica’s tourist industry in 2017. The country had welcomed 4.3 million tourists last year, 500,000 more than 2016; a growth of 12-per cent, the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean and nearly twice the growth rate for tourism internationally. “And we also earned nearly US$3-billion,” he continued, an increase of “nearly US$500,000 in a single year.” Job growth in the industry had also been significant. Of the 29,000 new jobs created in Jamaica last year, 11,000 were in tourism.

Jamaica had a 42 per cent rate of return visitors, he said. “In some families, visiting Jamaica was a generational thing.” He met a couple who had gotten married in Jamaica, and was now celebrating their 49 th anniversary. “The 50 th is on me,” he told them.

Underlining the importance of tourism to the Jamaican economy, Bartlett noted that the industry accounts for some 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with one in five workers being employed in tourism.

JAMAICA NO PROBLEM

And what accounted for this success? “As a destination we continue to provide a value proposition for the visitor, born out of three critical [things]; safety, security and seamlessness…ensuring that that promise is never second-guessed by the visitor.”

The mention of “safety” and “security” must have grabbed the attention of all but the most uninformed journalists hearing his presentation. January could not have been a good month for those involved in tourism in Jamaica.

Data compiled by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) had recorded 38 murders in the first six days of the year. By January 27, that figure had climbed to130. On January 10, the U.S. Department of State had issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory, warning Americans against going to areas of Montego Bay, Spanish Town and Kingston. On January 18, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in response to the spike in crime, had announced a State of Emergency for the parish of St. James, mobilizing the Jamaica Defence Force to work with the police in cracking down on crime. (Montego Bay, generally considered the heart of Jamaica’s economically crucial tourism industry, is the capital of St. James.) Following the State of Emergency declaration, the U.K. and Canadian governments had warned their citizens staying at hotels in Montego Bay, not to venture beyond the confines of those resorts. The Commissioner of Police, George Quallo, who had held that position for less than a year, was being forced out. And there had been calls for the Minister of National Security, Robert Montague, to be relieved of that portfolio.

It was against this background that Bartlett faced the media in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 31. An experienced and savvy politician, he seemed to have anticipated the questions.

Crime against tourists is less than one percent in Jamaica, he claimed, a statistic which he said was the envy of other destinations. And what about the State of Emergency?

‘POLITICIAN SPEAK’

As he tells it, this was a “proactive” move by the government. “From to time to time we have to look at the kinds of security arrangements that we have and even to elevate the levels of security in order to ensure that we maintain and preserve that promise that we give to the market. We don’t wait for disruptions to cause dislocations and undermine the promise of safety and security. And so the recent elevated security measures we introduced in the Montego Bay area [were] to cauterize the heightened incidents of internal dislocation among certain elements of the community; gangs and so on.” These measures “were all designed to ensure that we maintain the reputation that Jamaica has had over the years.”

And this move, Minister Bartlett said, had borne fruit. He been assured by the president of one of the largest cruise companies, that the company “was pleased that Jamaica had moved to proactively deal with these rumblings,” and this would result in increased cruise business this year.

And the U.S. State Departments Travel Advisory?

Even as he acknowledged that this could cause “some skittishness in the market,” Bartlett emphasized that it was a ‘Level 2’ advisory, through which the U.S. government was saying to its citizens, “You can go, but be careful.” It was not saying to them, “Don’t go.” The U.S. government could be saying the same thing to its citizens visiting Germany, the U.K. or Canada.

Minister Bartlett’s news conference was an unscheduled event. Jamaica was not one of the 15 countries and tourism organizations scheduled to hold news briefings. In all the others, there were lengthy question and answer sessions. He spoke for 21 minutes, and answered only three questions in less than four minutes, as headed for the door. There was no opportunity for the media to have him expand on aspects of his presentation, or to explore some of the ‘politician speak’ in which he had engaged. That was all the time he had, he apologized. “I have to catch a flight to Canada. I’m going to tell them it’s too cold up there. They must come down to Jamaica.”

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