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Last month, Jamaica was basking in the glow of a very successful Jamaica Product Exchange 2010 (JAPEX), with the island’s 2009 visitors arrivals figures showing 3.6 percent growth in a year when most islands were posting declines. JAPEX also gave Jamaica a chance to showcase impressive new tourism developments on the horizon, including a new convention center in Montego Bay, a new cruise ship harbor in Falmouth and a successful initiative to legalize casino gaming.
Unfortunately for Jamaica, news of deadly protests in West Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens caught the world’s attention. The core of the problem was a dispute between the U.S. and Jamaica over the extradition of gang kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who had been indicted on drug and gun charges in New York City. The Jamaican government refused to turn over Coke and questioned the legality of the wiretap evidence used against him; it didn’t help that Coke and Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, were considered political allies. When Golding finally yielded to pressure and agreed to Coke’s extradition, violence exploded and police battled in the streets with Coke’s henchmen. Fatalities, as of press time, total 73 civilians and three security officers, and Coke remains uncaptured. Violent images of the conflict were broadcast around the world and will have an impact on Jamaica’s tourism prospects for 2010. Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, told the Jamaica Observer that the country’s tourism sector could be in danger of losing up to $350 million this year due the unstable situation in Kingston.
Kingston, the island’s capital, lies on the southeastern coast of the island, while the major resort areas of Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios are located on the north shore. To put it further into perspective, Montego Bay is 112 miles from Kingston, which is a four-hour drive by car.
TravelAge West recently spoke with John Lynch, director of tourism and chairman, Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), about the challenges facing the island.
“It’s not all of Jamaica that is burning,” said Lynch. “Air Jamaica canceled a couple of flights, and British Airways routed one of its flights from Kingston to Montego Bay. Kingston had a few groups cancel. But, we’ll eventually get back up-to-speed.”
Referring to the resorts on the north coast of the island, Lynch said, “You have a lot of happy people here.”
In a bid to spread the word that Jamaica is safe, the JTB will embark on a $10 million dollar advertising blitz. Lynch, however, acknowledged that this effort alone is not enough.
“Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising,” said Lynch. “I’ve been talking with the airlines — since we want to bring a lot of travel agents down to see the situation for themselves — and the planes are full. We’re having difficulty finding seats in June.”
Travel agents interested in seeing the situation firsthand should keep an ear out for updates about upcoming JTB fams to the island.
“People who sell Jamaica know Jamaica — we depend on travel agents,” said Lynch.
Travel agents can expect to see a slew of value-added offers from resorts and suppliers, such as free nights and free golf and spa visits.
“Hoteliers are going to get real creative,” said Lynch. “There are going to be lots of special packages and promotions.”
When asked if he had a final word for travel agents, Lynch responded, “Jamaica is alive and well — we’re still kicking.”