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Garth Rattray | Safeguard our tourist visitors

Published:Monday | September 5, 2016 | 9:00 AM

I met Mr. John Smith (not his real name) almost two weeks ago. He is a Jamaican who migrated to Canada a long time ago. He frequently visits the island. He was vacationing in Ocho Rios when he was attacked from behind as he approached his hotel.

The perpetrator jumped on him and wrapped his arm around his neck with such force that it shoved Mr. Smith to the ground. Given the level of violence in the island and the recent murder of two tourists and two missionaries, Mr. Smith felt certain that his attacker was about to either shoot or stab him to death right there and then.

He shouted for murder and ended up rolling over on to his back as he put up a fight for his life. The would-be thief assumed that Mr. Smith had money in his left pants pocket, so he grabbed and yanked it until that pants leg was badly torn. Mr Smith's resistance dissuaded the criminal who ran off leaving Mr Smith shaken, injured and dishevelled.

As I examined his fluid-filled right knee, multiple areas of denuded skin, lacerated and swollen left lower lip, Mr Smith revealed his reason for needing urgent resolution for his injuries. He is an ardent advocate for Jamaica. He adores the island, he fervently encourages all his Canadian friends to visit here, and he often boasts about the people who live here.

Mr Smith found himself with an enormous problem, His vacation time was running out and soon he would be returning to Canada. He needed to get rid of all signs of trauma. He didn't want to have to explain that he was attacked in his beloved Jamaica. He couldn't bear the embarrassment and he didn't want to turn off potential visitors.

 

DEAL WITH TOURIST HARASSMENT

 

He and I discussed a topic that I have often spoken about. In order to reduce crime, tourist harassment and to increase citizen involvement in our tourism product, tourist towns need to benefit directly from the income that they generate. Many tourists do not feel safe to roam the streets and mingle freely with our citizens. They are badly put off by the begging and the hustling and, of course, the fear of criminality. Consequently, they ensconce themselves in all-inclusive hotels and only venture outside on pre-booked, organised tours. This denies the tourists the true Jamaican experience and denies our citizens opportunities to form cultural alliances and earn from the interaction.

In the long run, the entire country loses on several levels - socially, culturally and economically. If tourist towns are singled out for special allocation of a portion of their tourist dollars, locals will feel invested into the much-vaunted tourism product. They will see improvements in their infrastructure and social circumstances for them and their families. This will lead to self-policing and will help to reduce crime.

As things stand, desperate Jamaicans search for places to involve themselves in tourism. Some do this through legal channels, but many others hustle. There are frequent cries of protectionism and of shielding the tourists so much that only the large and/or rich tourist enterprises benefit significantly from the industry. At a recent regional heads of government meeting, one leader criticised those nations that take great pride in quoting the number of visitor arrivals as a function of the viability of the tourism product. He asserted that it is far more important to document and quote how much these visitors spend when they disembark.

Our main tourist towns should be spotless and always patrolled by a high concentration of uniformed and ununiformed members of the constabulary. There should be no grimy drains and polluted gullies. Begging, hustling and soliciting of any sort should be stopped. School children should be taught how to interface with our visitors and about the pitfalls and consequences of criminal activities. It should not be an abstract by-the-way mentioning of the need to make our tourists welcome and safe. Many hours should be dedicated to the topic.

We must take tourism very seriously, especially in light of the opening up of our nearby Caribbean neighbour, Cuba.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.