Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Recounting MoBay's glory days

Published:Saturday | November 29, 2014 | 11:00 AM
Visitors enjoy Doctors Cave Beach in Montego Bay.

WESTERN BUREAU:While Montego Bay became the epicentre of Jamaica's tourism in the 1960s, its global appeal actually started some three decades earlier when world-renowned chiropractor Sir Herbert Barker began writing articles about the curable potential of the Doctor's Cave Beach after he visited the facility and was cured of tuberculosis - then considered an incurable disease.

"Doctors Cave was not only responsible for tourism's growth in Montego Bay, but also in Jamaica as hundreds from the United Kingdom and the United States were able to get passage on banana boats coming to the island," said noted historian Shalmanezer (Shalman) Scott, a university lecturer and former mayor of Montego Bay.

According to Scott, Montego Bay's emergence as a premier tourism destination was further boosted with the transformation of a fuel depot, which was used for military planes during World War II, into what is now the Sangster International Airport.

"With the addition of transportation by air, the tourism industry began to expand at a rapid rate and out of that a number of hotels began to be built out," recalled Scott, who stated that the first aircraft to transport tourists to Montego Bay was the now defunct Pan Am Airlines.

Scott further stated that in those early days, Montego Bay was a place that offered the real Jamaican experience. As a consequence, it became the undisputed first choice for cruise passengers, who found its majestic hotels, inviting white-sand beaches, classy golf courses and a rich nightlife most enticing.

In those glory days of the 1960s, the once famous Banana Boat Club, revered for its rich nightlife, was the entertainment venue of choice. The trendsetting Disco Inferno - the hub of youthful exuberance, Studio 54 Club - the city's sound-system Mecca; and the Cave Disco at the Seawind Resort, now Sunset Beach Hotel, added additional flavour.

Sports was also an integral part of Montego Bay's tourism package. In addition to numerous golf courses, the city regularly hosted international cricket and football. It was also customary for teams in the parish to play friendly football matches against the crews from visiting ships.

While attractions such as the Rose Hall Great House, the Montego Bay Craft Market, the Doctors' Cave Beach, and the world-famous Margaritaville, have survived time, and remain premier tourist attractions, the city has steadily been losing its once-captivating allure to towns like Ocho Rios and Falmouth.

In addition, the advent of the all-inclusive concept, which encourages visitors to stay in their hotels; and the social upheaval caused by factors such as crime, also contributed to the loss of the city's appeal and decline in tourist-related businesses.

"The argument has been that the all-inclusive concept could be where we went wrong, because it locked in guests and tourism that was benefiting the town in the traditional way. Community tourism began to see a major reversal of the benefits to the small man," said Scott. "However, the other side to it would be the escalation of crime and violence that would justify hotel operators giving preference to the all-inclusive approach to protecting their investment."

- Mark Titus