Beienetch Watson and Nicole Hay Walters | Negril, paradise burning
A major perk of being tourism lecturers at one of Jamaica's prominent universities are the frequent opportunities to experience Destination Jamaica through the lens of our visitors. Most recent was an educational tour facilitated through UTech, Jamaica's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management for a group of 10 students from an American university.
As two industry specialists, it was quite a pleasure taking the group to experience some of Jamaica's most symbolic treasures, including the Bob Marley Museum, Port Royal and Falmouth Historic Tours, the Rastafari Indigenous Village in
St Ann, the Rose Hall Great House, Holywell Recreational Park, Appleton Estate Rum Tour, and the Marine Park and Cultural Centre in Montego Bay. Some of our partner hotels also allowed the visiting Americans the opportunity to experience the luxurious side of Jamaica's tourism product offering.
As we hopped across the island, the group was quite enamoured by the depth and quality of Jamaica's tourism product. So fantastic was the experience that the students could often be heard making plans for their future return to the island with their families and friends. At least two thought they had found their ideal wedding and honeymoon locations. Beaming with pride, we traversed from Montego Bay to Kingston and St Andrew, through St Elizabeth and onwards to Negril.
Negril, the 'Capital of Sex, Drugs and Immorality?'
'Shrooms, brownies, coke, weed!' Comparable to any market scene, those were the options thrown out to us as we accompanied the students for a casual stroll along the famous seven-mile beach. The almost rhythmic public offerings of illegal substances was extremely shocking and glaringly underscored the unique set of challenges the 'capital of casual' had ignored.
Having lived in Negril in the early 2000s, we were long accustomed to a range of service offerings on the beach. Men and women desirous of renting various body parts did so quite publicly, choosing from the smorgasbord of worldly pleasures.
However, the assumption that we were all foreigners seemed to have led to a shift in the types of goods and services on offer. Perhaps, so as not to be left behind, the 'peddlers' or, better yet, 'entrepreneurs' have now expanded their product offerings in much the same way that the resort area of Negril has grown and diversified. This may be globalisation in its truest and purest form.
While the public offering of drugs and sex might not come as a surprise to most persons who are familiar with the Negril scene, it was the facilitating of the illegal acts that was the most difficult to accept or ignore.
A popular Negril nightclub has now seemingly, and perhaps brazenly, become a training ground for pimps, prostitutes and con men. Like lions hunting prey, they lurk behind the clouds of smoke and disco lights looking for any hint of fresh meat they can latch on to; and once found, go in for the kill. An innocent night out with the students to experience the Jamaican entertainment scene quickly turned into regret as we became security guards attempting to scathe off the many indecent proposals from men, women and tweens alike.
Who will out the fires?
It left us pondering the extent to which tourism interests in Negril may have silently ignored the unquestionable level of social decay that has crept over the once idyllic resort town. Anecdotally, the impact of the drug culture was evident everywhere. It was visible in the hardened faces of the locals who laid idly by the roadsides peddling their 'wares' and/or 'services'. It could also be seen in what appeared to be an increase in the number of mentally ill and/or homeless mendicants who have taken over the town centre; by the obvious shift in cultural values exhibited by those parading as 'wannabe Americans' in the clubs; and it was sometimes violently exhibited by the type of harassment experienced in the craft village and on the beaches.
Sadly, we left Negril wondering whether paradise was rapidly eroding, as the various stakeholders seemingly buried their heads deeper into what's left of the sand. The socio-cultural erosion of this once idyllic getaway seemed even more violent than the coastal erosion, impacting the properties along the Norman Manley Boulevard. It, therefore, didn't come as shock a few weeks later to learn of the murder of a Canadian tourist.
Negril is a significant tourist gem. And thus, the question now being asked is just how much longer we can afford to pretend that crime, moral decay and demonstrably levels of poverty are not impacting the product and, possibly, the medium-term survival of the destination area.
As more multinational corporations acquire what is left of the 'Capital of Casual', what are the long-term implications for the people of Negril? More so, with law enforcement seeming to ostensibly accept the status quo as tourism organisations continuing to embellish the few positives of this once tranquil paradise?
As the all-inclusive resorts continue to look out to the beach from their self-protected enclave, the marketplace has slowly made its way to their beachfronts. If these hotels think they are still immune, they should pull their heads from the sand and look around; the underbelly of Negril has demonstrated its preparedness to make a living by any means necessary.
'Shrooms, brownies, cocaine, weed, sex': Your move, Negril.
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