Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Dreading winter season - Sex harassment fears linger as tourist ethics manual not ready

Published:Monday | December 16, 2019 | 12:22 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter

Workers at some of the island’s poshest hotels are dreading the increased sexual and verbal abuse that usually come with peak periods. This, as the country enters the winter tourist season, where the Government is anticipating record-breaking number of arrivals this year.

A group of hotel workers told The Gleaner that instances of sexual harassment by guests in Jamaican hotels are seldom discussed or reported for fear of embarrassing guests and the hotel, or for fear of victimisation.

“Most of the times, we will say things to our guests as to not offend them or make them feel bad, but I never expected the man (guest) to think that I liked him, too,” said one young woman, recounting how a flirtatious elderly guest grabbed and started kissing her after a compliment.

To make matters worse, the Government has still not finalised an audit and tourism manual that Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett hopes will guide the ethics and behaviours of workers and guests – some of whom have been fingered for various offences by hotel staff.

“We got the report from an audit that was done, and from the audit, the manual is being done. I was hoping that it would be ready for the start of the season,” Bartlett told The Gleaner last Friday, noting that professionals from overseas and the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) have been working assiduously on the document.

“We also had the benefit of the three major international partners in the market: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, who have also been helping. So it is a well-organised, well-structured and highly credible output there,” continued Bartlett, who said several establishments were canvassed for the audit.

Efforts to reach Dr Andrew Spencer, executive director of the TPDco, were futile last Friday. However, Bartlett said that he was very optimistic about the document as the problem of sexual harassment in the island’s hotels was aimed at protecting both guests and staff and employing best practices from across the world. He could not say when the manual will be published.

The 2018-2019 winter tourism season was the most successful for Jamaica based on earnings and visitor arrivals. The industry welcomed nearly 800,000 stopover visitors while generating more than $1 billion in earnings. Bartlett said that 121,000 persons were directly employed in the sector, while another 375 persons indirectly benefited from the turnout.

Bartlett said the boom in visitor arrivals to Jamaica has spurred investment interest.

“Our growth has been phenomenal. This is the greatest and most productive tourism winter season that Jamaica has ever seen in its history,” he told reporters earlier this year.

Bartlett’s push for the publication of the manual followed reports by hotel staff that they were being sexually and verbally harassed by guests, while their managers turned a blind eye or threatened them with dismissal if they spoke out.

The manual also followed a bombshell report by a United States media outlet last December that several tourists were sexually abused while on vacation in Jamaica.