Wed | Nov 30, 2022

Outrage over public beach food ban

Published:Thursday | September 29, 2022 | 12:10 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer

The state-run Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has been accused of greed and marginalising poor Jamaicans after imposing restrictions at public beaches prohibiting visitors from consuming food and beverages not sold at the facility on month-end weekends for the rest of the year.

Pearly Beach in Ocho Rios, St Ann, has been identified as one such location, sparking questions by disgruntled Jamaicans about the fairness of the policy.

Debate has raged over the last decade about the perceived growing limitations to beach access for average, budget-conscious locals.

“I think it is a horrible practice that has become the norm in Jamaica,” said Kelly McIntosh, a logistics manager and lifestyle and travel blogger, who laments that many of the country's best beaches have been bought out by private interests.

McIntosh said she was appalled by the policy which forced guests to purchase food after paying an entry fee. She is particularly concerned for larger families who would already have to pay thousands of dollars in entry fees.

“I draw the line at being forced to consume from their offerings,” she said in a Gleaner interview.

“So, you telling me that a family of four in Jamaica, an island, for them to go and enjoy a beach, they have to have $10,000? That doesn't make sense, and I think it is greedy,” she added.

McIntosh said that many Jamaicans who do not want to undergo the hassle of travelling with their own picnic baskets would gladly buy food, but she believes that such purchases should be optional at public beaches.

“Why punish me and you're still going to make money? You think it's 100 per cent of people going to carry them food?” she said.

Questions sent to the L. Robert Honeyghan-managed UDC more than a week ago have not been answered.

McIntosh, who regularly goes on excursions with her family, said she fully understood the value of entry fees, which help fund facility upkeep and security, among other things.

The admission fee at Pearly Beach is $1,000 for adults and $500 for children aged four to 12 years. Food and beverages will be available for purchase and a live disc jockey will provide entertainment.

The food blackout weekends are October 29-30, November 26-27, and December 26-27.

According to the Beach Access and Management Policy for Jamaica 2018 Green Paper, revised in 2020, public recreational beaches are those which are owned, managed or leased by a public entity and for which a fee is charged for entry and/or use other facilities.

Public access to beaches does not mean free or unrestricted access for visitors but refers to using the recreational facility without discrimination and preserving the right for individuals to make bookings once it is open.

A Twitter user with the handle @IrishandChin criticised the UDC food-buying mandate as “primitive” and expressed concern for individuals with dietary restrictions and those who simply could not afford food prices after already having to pay to enter.

McIntosh, a keto proponent, expressed similar sentiments.

“I eat in a particular way. I might not want the offerings there for whatever reason. I could be diabetic, I might be vegetarian and I don't want your food,” she said.

McIntosh suggests that the UDC expand its offerings and have on sale food options that would be harder for people to carry, such as ice cream and other desserts, as opposed to chicken meals and burgers.

“A family of five would spend at minimum $3,500, and if those kids are teens, then that's $5,000 plus gas, and one can imagine the food prices,” the IrishandChin Twitter user said.

Twitter user Robyn Miller was also up in arms over the policy.

“We're seeing more and more of these. All it does is exclude poor Jamaicans. So much for a 'land of wood and water' only some can enjoy,” Miller tweeted.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com