Patria-Kaye Aarons | Kingstonians nuh ready yet!
Fervent efforts are being made to add Kingston to Jamaica's suite of regular cruise ship ports. It's a great idea.
The destination isn't short of things to see and do. Bob Marley Museum, Culture Yard, Devon House, The Chinese Garden, Cafe Blue, Strawberry Hill, National Gallery, Port Royal. City Kingston has amazing food spots at every corner.
And there's also so much culture in this little place. There's always a play or a dance or a concert somewhere. The simplest activity of buying fruits in Coronation Market and then eating them on a bench by the waterfront would make for a great Kingston experience.
I've always wondered why the capital is so undervisited. The harrowing stories of crime here perpetuated by the foreign press have certainly played their part in keeping guests away, but this weekend, it came to my attention that another huge deterrent was a most unlikely source: Kingstonians.
I met an American couple at Devon House. They were on vacation, staying at a hotel near the attraction, and had come over to see the property. I noticed them tentatively scouting around with that "What should we do next?" look, so I invited them to join my small party and tour the Great House.
Thirty-year cultural veteran Norma was our tour guide, and she fluidly danced through the old mansion, ensuring that we heard about all the stories the old walls told. We
got a special treat. There's a brilliant art installation for the Jamaica Biennial mounted in the dining room, and we got
to meet the artist Jasmine, who was only too willing to explain to us the thinking behind her pieces. The female tourist was moved to tears.
At the end of the tour, the couple confessed that the last hour with us was a "surprisingly delightful" encounter. They continued to reveal that it was "surprising" because the security guard at their hotel bid them adieu with a warm "Don't talk to anybody on the outside. Don't trust a soul." With that parting warning from him, they had immediately become apprehensive and scared of Jamaica. Of Jamaicans.
What did the guard expect to achieve by doing that? If I were in a foreign country, and a local told me that, I would be on the next flight outa there. I'd be Netflix and chilling in my room until my scheduled check-out date.
The horror of that interaction was further burdened by a similar story from a visiting Bajan colleague. His friends had heard all about a popular New Kingston eatery, and they were excited to try out this authentic local cuisine. They made enquiries about directions at their hotel front desk and were promptly dissuaded from walking there. The warning from the front desk agent: "I wouldn't do that if I were you. It's just not safe" - with a smile.
Never mind it was broad day and the walk wouldn't have taken even five minutes, and the route was all on the main roads.
If we are serious about tourism in Kingston, this can't be the approach. The tales of these two encounters left me feeling disappointed in my people. Disappointed that persons who, more than most, had a responsibility to be custodians of Brand Jamaica let us down. All of us.
The universal travel-safety rules apply in Kingston, just like anywhere else. But Kingston is no more of a threat than any other city. If we ourselves paint a picture of a perilously unsafe Kingston, tourists have no choice but to believe us.
If we don't fix the approach, the whole thing will feel less like a dream vacation to visitors and more like the plot of a horror movie. The Ministry of Tourism and hotel owners have some work to do.
It's clear that some of the current crop of hotel workers need some sensitivity training. If we are to develop the Kingston product further, if we are to open our arms to guests, it would be really dumb to do so and then scare them into staying indoors. And if we insist on scaring them, add some Jamaican flair. We may as well meet them at the tarmac with a mento band paying Delroy Wilson's 'Run for Your Life'.