Tue | Jul 7, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Dying for tourism dollars

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2020 | 12:00 AM

THERE’S AN urgent petition on change.org that every sensible Jamaican must sign: ‘REQUIRE MANDATORY COVID-19 TESTING FOR ALL TRAVELLERS ENTERING JAMAICA’. Here’s the link to the petition: http://chng.it/Jp4syVpLnf. The last time I checked, 18,461 people had signed. What is truly alarming is that the petition needed to be launched at all.

At a virtual press conference last Sunday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that visitors will not be tested when our borders open from June 15. Holness argued, “It will place a strain on the public-health system. It is just not feasible to test flights with 200-300 passengers coming in at the same time.”

Won’t the strain be far worse if hundreds of infected visitors are let loose on the society? The tourists who are likely to come in this period of uncertainty are the lunatics out in droves on beaches in the US without masks and paying absolutely no attention to physical-distancing requirements.

TRUST IN GOD

For just about three months, we have all been under house arrest. We understood that this was essential to protect ourselves from the spread of the deadly coronavirus. All of the discomforts seemed to be worth the long-term benefit of reducing deaths. Paradoxically, life, as we knew it, came to an abrupt end. As the Ethiopians sang more than forty years ago, Everything Crash.

There were sustained curfews and the total lockdown of some communities.

Businesses closed, and thousands of people lost their jobs or were sent home without pay. The economic consequences were dire. Educational institutions and places of entertainment were shut down. Even churches! Those who put their trust in God to protect them from the virus had to practise their faith in private.

Borders were closed, and many Jamaican residents were trapped abroad. Some of them ran out of money and were dependent on the kindness of family and friends. Most of us welcomed the Government’s decision to allow them to come home. There would be strict protective measures to prevent infected returnees from spreading the virus. Testing and quarantining would be the norm.

UNENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST

Major players in the tourist industry and other business leaders have put pressure on the Government to also allow visitors to enter the country. This is a clear case of unenlightened self-interest. All that seems to matter is the almighty tourist dollar. But even the Bank of Jamaica concedes in its Quarterly Monetary Policy Report, published last month, “There is still no effective treatment for the virus or a vaccine. Therefore, a return of aggressive containment measures in the second half of 2020 is not ruled out.”

On May 5, Prime Minister Holness announced in Parliament that the don of tourism, Butch Stewart, was donating J$500,000 to each MP, through his Sandals Foundation, to provide care packages for the needy. Every single MP accepted the handout. The beneficiaries will certainly be grateful. In times of crisis, one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Still I can’t help wondering if this gift was an incentive for the Government to quickly open our borders to tourist traffic. Was the $30+ million just like the 30 pieces of silver Judas negotiated to betray Jesus? After all of the hardship we’ve endured over the last three months, are we now to become sitting ducks? Hell, no! We must stand up to the Government and demand that all tourists be tested.

BEGGING TO SURVIVE

Out of the evil of the coronavirus pandemic some good might come. We must emancipate ourselves from dependency on the quick fix of tourism. For far too long, tourism has been the drug that keeps our economy on edge. And on the edge! We cannot afford to beg for a living. That’s essentially what tourism is. Begging and beseeching tourists to visit us so we can eat a food!

Or, even worse, tourism can become outright prostitution! In 1972, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) published that infamous poster of a woman in a wet T-shirt with ‘Jamaica’ printed across her breasts. It wasn’t subliminal advertising. It was slap in your face: sex sells. The model wasn’t even Jamaican. Classic tourism bait and switch!

According to the jamaicans.com website, Sintra Bronte, a Trinidadian on vacation in Jamaica, was “discovered” by a JTB marketing group “searching for a Jamaican-Chinese woman to add to their marketing campaign in a bid to attract Asian tourists”.

It’s time to scrap the JTB and the Ministry of Tourism. Most of the earnings from the tourist industry don’t even stay in Jamaica. We should invest instead in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, as well as the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. Productivity is what we need.

At a press briefing last Thursday, Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett argued that “...the phased reopening of our borders to international travellers on June 15 is not just about tourism. It is a matter of economic life or death”. It’s not just about the economy. Jamaican lives matter. Economic recovery must not trump the health of the nation.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.