Tackle harassment now
With only days before the start of the 2015 winter tourist season, Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill and tourism interests are upbeat about projections of growth in the sector.
More stopover visitors and cruise-ship passengers are expected to arrive on our shores. The 1.2 million more airline seats for the season represent a 15 per cent increase over last year. The entire country should be pleased about that, for when the tourism sector enjoys growth, the entire country benefits. The additional arrivals will boost foreign-exchange earnings by nearly five per cent for this season to nearly US$900 million.
Jamaica's physical beauty and its largely hospitable people, its delectable cuisine, and cultural outputs are some of the magnets that draw more and more people to the island. Yet it would be unwise to ignore the underbelly of harassment that has dogged the tourism product for many years.
Data indicate that as much as 29 per cent of visitors to Jamaica reported that they had been harassed in 2011. Bad as it sounds, that represents an improvement on the 1990s when the figure was as high as 60 per cent. Prostitutes, beggars, drug pushers and hustlers are known to converge on major tourist locales like Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.
There was a time when a visitor who experienced harassment would simply return home, vowing never to come back. Nowadays, it is relatively easy for a disgruntled visitor to tell the world about his experience by posting a review or giving an account of an incident on social media. A bad review could put off potential visitors. Currently, there are some negative reports about harassment in Jamaica now circulating on social-networking sites and platforms.
dark clouds looming
The gulf between the optimism of tourism bigwigs for growth and the constant harassment of visitors by those who want a share of the pie is the reason why there are dark clouds gathering over the tourism-and-leisure sector.
In his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in May, Dr McNeill acknowledged that a problem existed and spoke of plans to deal with it. He said, in part: "We have to control harassment in Jamaica ... . The Government will lead a collaborative effort, drawing on past experiences and best practices. This will entail government ministries and agencies, law enforcers, the judiciary, community organisations, tourism stakeholders, private- and public-sector interests."
Back then, the minister also spoke of new strategies, including a public-relations campaign and training, to curtail and eventually eliminate harassment.
We are almost at year's end and we have seen
no evidence of this campaign picking up steam to tackle a problem that has bedevilled the industry in every location. Dr McNeill should explain in clear and precise terms what has been done so far and how his plans to reduce harassment of visitors to the island are proceeding.
Harassment is a serious issue that needs urgent attention. While the problem has been recognised and talked about ad nauseam, there seems to be no remedy in sight.
Any effort to deal with the problem of harassment should involve the communities themselves, as they must form part of the solution to this seemingly intractable problem.
Not so long ago, the sector was brought to its knees after the so-called 9/11 debacle in America - just a reminder of how fragile this industry is. So let's not drag our feet on this one.