Give us more of the tourism pie, say craft vendors
Despite the optimism of Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, craft vendors are not enthused about the upcoming winter tourist season, and even before the first visitor arrives, some are ready to give the season a failing grade.
In fact, some vendors who claim that they are being neglected in favour of established merchants, have described their situation as a "downright shame", saying they have been sold out by the authorities, who, they say, have allowed the 'small man' to fall prey to the big competitors who are seeking to dominate the industry.
"Big bucks are being paid to leave the craft markets empty and to take visitors elsewhere," said Melody Haughton-Adams, president of the National Craft Traders and Producers Association.
"We are tired of sitting down in the market and seeing the buses drive past and no business coming into the craft markets," said Haughton, who operates out of the Harbour Street Craft Market in Montego Bay. "We are adamant that this season must be different ... we are determined to get some of the business."
Haughton's sentiments were echoed by the craft vendors operating out of the Old Forte Craft Market. They noted that even on a cruise ship day, less than a dozen tourists visit the market as most are taken to the Hip Strip, where Indian merchants operate gift shops.
"Dem nah come give we no stop like how them stop on the Hip Strip (Gloucester Avenue). Dem seh dem put Jamaican people first, but is the Indian dem put first," said Patrick Palmer, a wood carver at Old Forte. "Dem not giving us any of the business so that we can benefit from the tourists and help build we economy. Dem give the tourists to the Indians and dem a go weh with the money because dem nah do nothing fi Jamaica."
According to the vendors, they have repeatedly tried to bring their plight to the attention of the minister of tourism and even Prime Minister Andrew Holness, but to no avail. However, they were full of praise for the Port Authority of Jamaica for allowing some of them to sell on the Montego Bay pier on shipping days.
"We nuh know if there is going to be any changes for the new tourist season upcoming, but we are looking and we are hoping. We looking business and support," said Paulette Ricketts, vice-president of the Old Forte Craft Traders. Noting that "2016 is already a failure", she is hoping that business will pick up next year.
Like the vendors, some ground transport operators say they, too, are feeling the pressures of neglect in the tourism sector, saying big tour-bus companies are taking all the business while the small man is left to take scraps.
"Now all the yellow (JUTC) buses are taking up tourists and running tours, and the small men are there," a tour bus operator told The Gleaner on condition of anonymity. "They are squeezing us out of tourism to suit the big man."