Montego Bay, Jamaica
Consistently ranked as one of the Caribbean islands with the highest murder rates, Jamaica has successfully navigated the risk to its brand and remains a safe destination for its visitors.
Last Wednesday the country welcomed its one millionth guest for the year as its tourism rebounds strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview here in Montego Bay, the island’s director of tourism Donovan White said the high crime and murder rates have not deterred investments in the sector and the country is in an expansion mood.
White told the Sunday Business Guardian, “From a risk perspective every investor has their risk tolerance and has their own risk analysis that allow them to make decisions on their investment. We have never had an investor who has turned down the opportunity to invest in Jamaica because of security reasons and that is a proud reputation that we have.”
He explained that Jamaica has been carefully focused and stayed on the message that crime and violence affect less than one per cent of visitors to the island which White argued was an empirical fact.
“And so for us, in terms of ensuring that we provide an enabler area across Jamaica in terms of our resort areas, that provide a level of safety and seamlessness of movement for every tourists who comes into the country, is our pride and joy,” White told the Sunday Business Guardian.
He said: “We have been able to continue to augment that. We have been able to ensure the kind of rigour surrounding destination assurance is delivered to every visitor that comes into the country and where there are variances we have tried to ensure that we address those issues proactively and if not proactive, immediately reactive, so that they do not become an issue for our tourism product.”
White added: “So it is more an issue of understanding your environment to the extent that you are able to be either proactive, so you act before something happens, so you are able to ensure that destination assurance is guaranteed, but at the same time some things will happen, that is just the nature of life, the nature of business, so we have to make sure we put the things in place to be able to react immediately.”
White said the level of security provided to the tourism sector does not drive up costs and reduce profits since there is in his words “no over exertion of additional security.”
White admitted that Jamaica has a crime problem but pointed out it was not unique to the island.
“Like every country, right across this world, there are challenges with security at many levels, some more than some, I think what we have done is appreciated where we are in the management of our own security, not just for visitors who come to the country, but for Jamaicans who have to live in Jamaica, and I believe we have done an outstanding job to date. There is still lots of ways to go and there still are areas of our security governance that we have to improve, but we are acknowledging of that and we are recognising that we have room to grow and we are embracing the opportunity to grow,” White posited.
Jamaica’s tourism, particularly its construction of hotels and other properties, has been a much needed shot in the arm for Trinidad Cement Ltd which is headquartered in Trinidad but owns a major plant in the North Western Caribbean island.
Several large hotels are at present under construction on the island including two new Sandals properties.
White was asked if there was any concern that there may be an over expansion of tourism on the island. He rubbished any suggestion that the island could be close to capacity.
“We don’t believe we are any where near to capacity at this point in time. Presently Jamaica has somewhere in the order of 32,000 rooms—when you compare with out chief competitors, say Mexico, let’s just take Quintana Roo, by itself as a part of Mexico, it is 125,000 rooms, Dominican Republic is 85,000 rooms, so from a capacity standpoint, just looking at the landmass we are talking about comparatively, we are not at capacity.” White added.
He said Jamaica is very focused on expanding the tourism product in other parts of the island that are considered greenfield or unused territories. For example, in the eastern belt of the country.
White explained: “In St Thomas there are some of the most beautiful, picturesque areas of Jamaica, that are completely greenfield. Those areas have been scoped for development of tourism and there has been a significant amount of work done already in terms of doing the necessary environmental studies, doing the necessary capacity studies and those areas are now ready for investments, and ready to be shown to investors.”
“We are also looking at the expansion of the Ocho Rios area, we are also looking at the expansion of Port Antonio in terms of a more luxurious, eco friendly destination. We are looking at the expansion of the south coast which is still a very virgin territory, under developed in terms of our tourism asset development, but in doing that we also have to continue to do what I said earlier, the development of the infrastructure around some of these areas. The road network, the transportation network, the enablement of Jamaican citizens to participate in the ownership and development of these areas, through tourism as well as through business.”
Jamaica has also added new products to their offerings, including a Trinidad-styled Carnival.
Its Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said the island does not want to take over T&T’s Carnival but rather enhance it.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Bartlett said: “Jamaica is not taking away Carnival, Jamaica is adding value to Carnival.”
In 2019, before the pandemic, every room and Airbnb property in Kingston and environs was sold out for the days leading up to the island’s carnival, so much so that some people had to find accommodation as far away as Ocho Rios-two hours drive from Kingston.
The island’s Tourism Minister said Jamaica stumbled into Carnival but is excited and committed to hosting it and letting it be part of its tourism offering.
“Jamaica has sought of walked into the carnival arena and is literally taking it over. Our Trinidadian friends probably won’t agree with that (laughs), but I think that we have come a good way with it. It’s good because what it says is that there can be a common Caribbean cultural experience that we can take from island to island, just the same way I think that reggae has become quite a regional genre and that people all over the world engage in—so carnival can become a similar kind of global musical and dancing instrument and we look forward to that.”
This year Jamaica’s Carnival will be held from July 1 to July 10, having been pushed back from earlier this year because of concerns about the covid-19 virus.