Editorial | Tourism, crime and perception
A report in Forbes magazine naming Jamaica as one of the most dangerous destinations for female tourists will no doubt take a public-relations toll on brand Jamaica. The writer revealed that a dozen or more sexual assault cases against American visitors were reported to the US Embassy over a 12-month period.
Most of these crimes reportedly happened at all-inclusive resorts, which may be a sad indication that the violence that has gripped the country like a vice is now encroaching on tourist areas once considered sacred. We need not emphasise that crimes against tourists could significantly damage the image of a destination and, ultimately, jeopardise a multibillion-dollar industry.
Even though Jamaica is blessed with exceptional beauty, idyllic scenery and vibrant cultural offerings, violence and harassment will scare tourists away. While glossy brochures beckon the visitors, many will choose to heed travel advisories issued by their respective countries before they make a vacation decision. Security and safety are vital elements of a strong tourist market.
Considering that more than three million visitors come to the island each year, assault of a dozen women may seem like an insignificant number. And there are some persons who may say crime against tourists happen at most destinations or that the media tend to blow these incidents out of proportion.
Our first reaction is that these numbers may not be exactly reflective of the real situation; the figures relate to visitors from the United States only, but thousands of tourists also come from Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. We also know that many tourists do not bother to report crimes because they do not want the inconvenience of having to return for court dates.
TRUE PICTURE NEEDED
So before we decide to dismiss this report as an exaggeration, we would do better to get a true picture from the resorts, analyse the situation, and think of strategies and intervention points that need to be made to put the minds of citizens and tourists at ease.
Police Commissioner George Quallo, in commenting on the report, said his data do not support the claim published in the magazine. He went on to suggest that visitors are sometimes perpetrators. We take that statement to mean that visitors and resort employees are engaging in consensual sex.
That, we think, is a most unfortunate statement. Given the importance of tourism to Jamaica, we expect the commissioner to offer objective data on the crime risk faced by tourists and offer assurance that he has a plan to deal with the problem. The commissioner appears to be trivialising the issue and we think he needs to address the matter in a more responsible manner.
It cannot be that the resorts are left to sort things out on their own and the police have no interest in the matter. We are aware that resorts are usually reluctant to divulge numbers and it is conceivable that they may take the most convenient way out - fire the offending employee and perhaps settle with the aggrieved party.
It is no secret that Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett wants all things negative to be erased from reports on tourism, so we can understand why he appears to be dismissing this report by saying these statistics don't really matter because the Jamaican market is experiencing a return rate of 42 per cent of its visitors.
We absolutely get it! Tourism is the largest service industry and ranks as one of the most important money earners for Jamaica. So all is geared towards tourism development, and while block and steel reach for the skies, filth and decay mire the communities that ring these swanky resorts, forgotten in the plans for social and economic development. The Government ignores these communities at its peril.
We have suggested in this space on many occasions that there needs to be an honest assessment of the crime and violence and its potential impact on tourism. Effective crime prevention requires the input of hoteliers, the resort boards, community leaders, and the police.