Tuesday | May 1, 2001
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Tourist harassment

Garth A. Rattray

IN A recent research project conducted in the United States of America it was reported that if the US allowed unrestricted travel to Cuba that island would have earned about US$16 billion in tourist revenue. In concluding it went on to say that in spite of the trade embargo with resultant travel restrictions and the attendant possible penalisation, some Americans were still risking it all to visit this forbidden land.

The Cuban culture and communist philosophy afford that country order, organisation and personal safety. I, of course, do not agree with the idea or principles of communism but it permits Cuba to make crime non-existent and enforce strict discipline. I understand from friends visiting the tourist areas, that the streets of Cuba are immaculate and that the ambience exudes safety, efficiency, tranquillity and helpfulness. They tell me that there are no potholes, touts, beggars or harassment. Cuba gives her guests a feeling of extreme privacy, safety and exclusivity.

With serious commitment and steady vigilance I am sure that Jamaica too can achieve the same without communism. The recent pullout of several cruise lines from our fair land should not be construed as 'normal'. At the very least it means that someone, somewhere is offering better services/facilities than we are. Having been a cruise ship passenger myself I can tell you that just before entering any port-of-call they have an assembly to brief their passengers on the good and bad points concerning that particular port. They seek out and highlight the negative points and spend a great deal of time warning their passengers of possible dangers.

Since tourism is Jamaica's prime income earner (our lifeline), someone should have had the foresight to ask the cruise lines to submit a list of problems with any given Jamaican port with each docking. They should also ask for a copy of their points used for dissemination to passengers at our ports so that we could view our island from their perspective. We would not only portray good business sense and a willingness to be accommodating, we would also have our fingers on the pulse long before any serious problems arise and take corrective action to avoid these potentially devastating 'surprise pullouts'.

I don't believe that the cruise lines made the decision to pullout lightly. They probably deliberated for sometime before making the final move. It is disquieting to have strangers stand in your path or 'shadow' you while you walk, all the time begging or offering their unsolicited 'services'. On a recent trip to Ocho Rios I witnessed blatant tourist harassment and since there were no policemen anywhere in sight, I had to take it on myself to call the fellow aside and tell him that he is killing our country by his selfish act.

I was in Cosumel, Mexico, and noticed that the area was inundated with policemen carrying two-way radios and dressed in white shirts and ties. Their apparent ubiquity eliminated harassment and provided a safe (crime-free) environment. They even assisted tourists in crossing the streets. We felt protected and wanted. It was clear that Cosumel viewed tourism as an integral part of their economy and that they went to great pains to ensure our comfort and safety. I am not convinced that Jamaica is perceived in the same light.

As far as our hotels are concerned, even I have had numerous problems with them over the years. One gave away my reserved and confirmed room during 'Spring Break'. Another put me in a flooded room and management refused to provide alternate accommodations. Many have non-functional lights, air-conditioners, kitchen or bathroom necessities. I've witnessed open quarrels and dissidence among the staff in the presence of guests (at an all-inclusive facility no less). I've even had rats sharing my room and food (for free). None of my several letters to the Jamaica Tourist Board was even acknowledged. There obviously exists a smug attitude of indifference at least in certain quarters. If I alone could have experienced so much negativity then I expect that others, both from here and abroad, have had similar problems.

We should be grateful that Dr. Fidel Castro has been tenacious in his adherence to the communist doctrine. He has recently revealed that there are statutes in place that will assure the continuation of the socialist philosophy after he is gone. As long as Cuba remains communist the United States and her allies will probably continue to enforce their trade embargo and we will be at an advantage, albeit an undeserved one.

I, however, believe that communism will die in Cuba one day and when it does she may then command the lion's share of the available tourist dollars. In the meantime we need to pull our socks up before we are caught with our pants down.

We need to stamp out crime, inefficiency and harassment. If tourism stumbles, Jamaica is without doubt doomed especially in light of the fact that our nearest neighbour is a wakening giant, ready, willing and able to siphon away precious tourist income.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice.

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