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ONE IN EVERY THREE TOURISTS IS HARASSED IN JAMAICA!

By Tyrone Reid—-

Since 1996, Jamaican officials have been seeing some success in efforts to reduce the harassment of the millions of tourists who visit the country each year.

At that time, a staggering 60 per cent of visitors to the island complained that they were harassed at some point during their stay.

Now 17 years later almost one-third or 33 per cent of visitors say are harassed during their visit.

Data contained in the latest edition of the Visitor Satisfaction Survey, prepared by the Research and Market Intelligence Unit of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), showed that 31 per cent of tourists complained of being hassled in 2010 and 29 per cent of them sang a similar tune in 2011.

“One-third of the (approximately 3.1 million) visitors in 2011 stated that they experienced some sort of harassment during the time they were in Jamaica. This is a slight decrease of two per cent when compared to 2010,” the survey summarised.

The study, also known as the Visitor Opinion Survey, noted that “harassment took place mainly in the street (43%), shopping areas (48%) and at the beach (46%)”.

The lion’s share of visitors exposed to harassment during their stay said they were “pressured to buy things”.

Eighty-six per cent of those who complained of being harassed in 2010 said they were exposed to this aggressive sales pitch. Eighty-four per cent of visitors to the island in 2011 had a similar complaint.

OFFERED DRUGS FOR SALE

While the majority of the victims of harassment complained about being pressured to buy legal goods, some 52 per cent of them said they were hassled to buy illegal items.

“There were attempts made to sell more than (of them) half drugs,” read a section of the survey.

Seven per cent of visitors who complained about being harassed said they were pushed into a taxi while six per cent of visitors said they were approached with offers of sex.

John Lynch, director of tourism, told The Sunday Gleaner that one case of harassment is one too many.

“No level of visitor harassment is ever satisfactory. In fact, any level of antisocial behaviour is seen as a deterrent in this industry.

“Over time, our efforts have been making a dent, but there is still work to be done,” Lynch stated in a written response to Sunday Gleanerqueries.

He revealed that the reduction in visitor harassment achieved between 1996 and 2011 was accomplished through public education and increased security initiatives.

“Visitor harassment has been a challenge for us for a long time. As far back as 1989, a Carl Stone study was done to review the impact of harassment on the industry. In the mid ’90s, it was determined that developing a strong school and community-education programme would cause a lessening in antisocial behaviour,” noted Lynch.

“A study by Dunn and Dunn in 1994, as well as a presentation done by the TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company) in 1997 were useful in helping us to define the problem and create solutions,” added Lynch.

The JTB also crafted community-based initiatives designed to help residents understand the value of tourism and how their actions could impact the industry.

Despite the mass-education campaign undertaken by the country’s tourism stakeholders, some locals apparently have not received the memo that harassment hurts Brand Jamaica and has the potential of driving away potential visitors.

Tourists climbing Dunn's River Falls

CAN AFFECT INDUSTRY

“There is no empirical evidence that visitor harassment has caused potential visitors to choose other destinations, but there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence. We get the stories from travel agents and from consumers (especially cruise visitors), so we know that visitor harassment can have a negative impact,” said a concerned Lynch.

The director of tourism also told The Sunday Gleaner that the TPDCo manages the safety and security in resort areas and work closely with the police force.

“On the product side, TPDCo increased security measures in certain areas and introduced the Tourism Courtesy Corp,” said Lynch as he outlined the factors that have contributed to the reduction in harassment.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has also implemented a visitor-security strategy in an effort to reduce harassment and protect tourists.

The programme, implemented several years ago, has been revitalised with the help of best practices adopted from The Bahamas.

According to the officer in charge of the Tourism Liaison Unit, Superintendent Karina Powell-Hood, because of how advanced the project is, the JCF has received requests to set up similar strategies in other countries in the region.

Apart from high-volume deployment of members of the tourism and commerce unit in these resort towns, Powell-Hood said there is significant interaction with the tourism stakeholders.

  • Put police on the beach!

Several visitors to the island have made it clear that the level of harassment they experienced spoilt their stay and could cause them not to return despite their love for Jamaica.

In the Visitor Opinion Survey (VOS) 2011 prepared by the Jamaica Tourist Board, the comments, for the most part, are biting and worrying.

One visitor said: “Didn’t leave our resort. Didn’t want to be hassled by local vendors.”

Another tourist wrote that he or she was approached on the grounds of the hotel by dope dealers on several occasions.

“Disappointed with being approached on resort for drugs multiple times,” the visitor stated.

Another person commented that the harassment was so rife that he/she might not return.

“Loved Jamaica. The harassment by resort employees was too much and would be a reason to not return.”

Yet another visitor wrote: “More policing is needed on the beach near resorts to stop the drug trade.”

It seemed quite a number of the visitors could not take a swim in peace.

“When you stay at private resort peddlers should not be on your beach asking you to buy stuff there,” the visitor said.

One male tourist said the perception that he would not be safe while in Jamaica was propagated by his wife.

“Being that I was American, I felt scared because my wife said Jamaicans love to rob Americans ’cause they think we have money, but I had protection, so I was good. I love Jamaica,” the visitor said.

GET GRIP ON CRIME

Another visitor urged the Jamaican authorities to “clean up the tourist areas, get rid of harassment, and get crime under control”.

“Had a great trip! Love Jamaica. Didn’t like being pressured to buy merchandise constantly and being expected to tip for everything,” commented yet another visitor.

The comments were not all bad, though.

One visitor admitted to being pleasantly surprised by the level of security she experienced in Jamaica.

“I was a bit concerned to travel as a single female in Jamaica due to stories I had heard but I found it to be easy and enjoyable and I never felt unsafe, the people are lovely,” she said.

“Continue to keep my country safe. Love Jamaica. I was born here; love it, no place like home,” said a Jamaican, who now resides overseas.

Another visitor said: “Decent service, wasn’t harassed, good entertainment.”

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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