Sun | Feb 16, 2020

Louder lobby to license itinerant beach vendors to weed out harassers

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:49 AM
Daniel Grizzle
Daniel Grizzle

There are renewed calls for the Ministry of Tourism to train and license itinerant vendors to allow them to legally sell on the Negril beach.

The outcry comes from hoteliers against the background of perennial wide-scale harassment and drug peddling that hoteliers say is making things bad for those non-threatening itinerant vendors who want to earn an honest living.

At present, itinerant vendors are not recognised as ‘tourism entities’ by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), and as a consequence, they are ineligible to officially sell on the beach. Section 23A of the JTB Act states that “no person shall operate or maintain any tourism enterprise unless such person is the holder of a licence”. Over the years, fruit vendors have been hauled before the courts by the police and fined as much as $20,000 upon being found guilty.

But operator of Couples Swept Away, Abe Issa Jr, says the itinerant fruit and craft vendors are an essential part of the tourism industry and the time is past due for them to be accorded respect, similar to counterparts in the transportation, in-bond, watersports, and other sectors of the tourism industry.

“The first thing is to get rid of the bad apples; weed out the ones who are breaking the law. Reprimand them as the law states, and then you have a standard for the respectable vendors who are selling fresh fruits and trinkets,” Issa told The Gleaner.

“It’s gonna improve the whole destination experience of Negril. All the hoteliers are gonna be happy, and the respectable vendors will also be happy because they will have a very civilised way of doing business.”

Issa said that negligence and complacency on the part of the State have resulted in the mushrooming of harassers. He contended that the issue should be an easy fix by the Government if the Holness administration was serious about tourism sustainability and inclusion.

“Look how quick Jamaica implemented the laws regarding scandal bags and straws. If we can do that, this is a just a small task to implement, and I think it’s long overdue ... . We are talking about a couple hundred people; we are not talking about thousands of people. It’s very doable. This is a small task that would make a world of difference to Negril,” Issa said.

At a high-level meeting in Negril in February 2019, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett endorsed the suggestion made by operator of White Sands hotel Michael Russell that registering itinerant vendors was a viable proposal.

Russell had argued that through registration, the police would be able to differentiate the legitimate vendors from harassers, who had, among other things, taken advantage of the decriminalisation of ganja and were wantonly approaching tourists to sell them the drug.

Stakeholders like Daniel Grizzle, operator of Charela Inn, are hoping that Bartlett will make good on his promise at that meeting to take steps to examine the idea of training and certifying itinerant vendors.

“I think that’s a very good idea that should be put in place and it only makes sense. And there are no downsides to it. In other words, you separate the sheep from the goats. The fruit people are part of the industry, and they are providing a necessary service,” Grizzle said.