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Jamaica's tourism dilemma
from Excluss Consultancy

Jamaica Tourism. The Facts June 2016.

A report by Eduardo Vanci

Jamaica was once considered the jewel of the Caribbean and one of tourists dreams of visiting. However over the years this has been tarnished by uncontrollable crime and killings. Recent cases of foreign visitors being shot and killed for no reason other than petty theft have done nothing to alleviate this global downturn of tourism to Jamaica. Additionally, there is now the Zika virus threat. Though this is relatively low in Jamaica, tourists are easily alarmed.

Crime is the single most important factor with holiday tourists. How dangerous a country is for physical crimes and murder plays an important psychological element in where tourists travel too. Over the years Jamaica has built a notorious reputation for murders, which include foreigners and tourists alike and ranks in the top six of the worlds most dangerous places and the third most dangerous for British tourists. In the past four years, 18 British tourists have been murdered in Jamaica. Not the sort of place a level headed traveller wants to visit or expose themselves or family to.

High profile killings of the USA missionaries last month and brutal shooting of a Canadian in tourist in popular Negril, have added highly flammable fuel to an already rampant fire.

The U.S. Department of State advises "tourists should avoid Kingston, New Kingston and other urban centers or secluded areas after dark. Evening walks on beaches should be avoided and tourists should travel in groups of two or more to avoid being seen as easy targets. Crime is also a problem in Montego Bay". Several other official tourism advice centers in the world have similar warnings to tourists listing most popular resorts as requiring caution and dangerous especially after dark.

Three years ago my flights from UK to Kingston would have maybe 30 or 40 foreigners on board. This has declined to now I'm the only white dude on the plane!

If that was not bad enough for Jamaica's tourism industry, the recent thawing of relationships between Cuba and America has created a new Jewel of the Caribbean for tourists. Cuba has virtually no gun crime and low violent crime, offering a Caribbean holiday where a tourist can feel safe to roam the country without fear and business investors don't need armed security.

In 1962, before independence, Jamaica had a murder rate of 3.9 per 100,000 population, one of the lowest in the world. Despite law changes, special 'gun courts' and a crackdown on gun ownership from back in the 70's, Jamaica now has one of the highest gun related murder rates in the world.

A leading expert in the USA Department of Defense quotes a close truth to what is widely believed by the world. "Gun control is simply a ruse to distract the public from the real cause of the murders – a government that is allied with the criminal gangs, and a corrupt police force". A brutal statement maybe, but the known truth in all third world countries with uncontrollable gun crime.

If Jamaica wants tourists and investors its got to think 'outside the box' and devise an effective system to eradicate illegal gun ownership. It can be done, in fact quite easily and at a fraction of the damage cost in one year alone. Just takes some wise decisions based on tried and tested techniques, mixed with a generous amount of common sense and forward reasoning. Something unfortunately some politicians and leaders lack.

So when it comes to tourism - the outlook is extremely gloomy for Jamaica. The government needs to not only re-invent Jamaica as a tourist destination but curb violent gun crime and thats a tall order for decision makers that can rarely see past their own hand, let alone embrace the necessary changes. Until then, money spent on tourism promotion will be totally in-effective as would tripling the police force to curb crime. Confrontation in open battle is a loss on all sides and can never win long term, it just escalates a problem.

Additionally, Jamaica now has a serious competitor in tourism - Cuba. A much larger country with much bigger natural resources and wide scope of tourist attractions. Billions of dollars are set to be invested in its aging tourism industry, infrastructure and economy and within ten years Cuba will possibly have the best resorts and tourism incentives of the entire Caribbean - with no gun crime to scare people away.

In contrast Jamaica has a falling economy, closing sugar and mining plants and rising violent crime. These are not favorable conditions to attract tourists or investors.

At a recent meeting my company had with some leading tourism operators and investors, Jamaica was put in the spotlight in comparison to other Caribbean destinations. The general answer from investors was 'why put ourselves and staff at personal risk and need security guards for such meager returns in a declining Jamaican tourism market?' While tourism operators confirmed they were 'already diverting Caribbean promotions to Cuba and other safer destinations'.

On the 'upside', the continual sliding of the Jamaican dollar as the economy slows, makes it wonderful value for tourists willing to accept risk at the price of greater spending power and cheaper holidays. Unfortunately, that type of tourist is on a tight budget and unlikely to spend much while on holiday so of a lesser economic value. A tourism lesson well learned by Spain several years ago when their economy slumped. A poor tourist has the same drain on local resources as an affluent one, but contributes very little to the countries economy.

This is all a very serious down turn for Jamaica's future tourism prospects. So lets start thinking outside the box at solutions, because the old ways are simply not working and never will, regardless of the financial resources thrown at them.

Eduardo Vanci is an overseas director for Excluss, a global entertainment and tourism consultancy company.

Contact Excluss for more information on tourism consultancy in Jamaica.

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