Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

JAMAICA: Tourist Sector Braces for Fallout from U.S. Sniper Trial

Zadie Neufville

KINGSTON, Nov 26 2002 (IPS) - As U.S. officials prepare to bring sniper suspects John Lee Malvo and John Allen Mohamed to trial, the Jamaican tourism sector is bracing itself for the fallout from the negative publicity surrounding a native son.

Officials fear that Malvo’s link to Jamaica could seriously damage an already limping tourism sector.

"Each time our name is projected in a negative way, it hurts us," Josef Forstmayr, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, told journalists recently. "It was being reported that both suspects had Jamaican connections – whenever this is so, the result is always lethal."

The shooting spree and arrest of the Jamaican-born Malvo, 17, and Mohamed triggered a meeting between Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Keith Knight and the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, Sue Cobb, the first of many efforts to limit the effects of the attacks of this land’s tourism fortunes.

During the first few days of Malvo’s capture last month, Jamaican officials withdrew all advertising from U.S. television, hoping to prevent a repeat of events last year when shoe bomber Richard Reid was identified as Jamaican.

Reid’s attempts to ignite a bomb on board a Miami-bound aircraft and his reported links to the island, short-circuited a buoyant Jamaican campaign to win tourists back after the events of Sep. 11 and a July 2001 shoot-out between police and gunmen in the capital Kingston, which killed 27 people.

About 52 percent of tourists who visit Jamaica come from the United States.

Tourism generates 45 percent of Jamaica’s foreign exchange earnings and provides one in four jobs.

But the high crime rate and violence lately associated with the island have made it harder to sell its paradise image to traditional markets like the United States and United Kingdom.

While the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) constantly points out that the violence is confined to small pockets of the country, officials admit it is becoming harder to sell the island as an idyllic retreat.

"It takes so much to recover and it is so discouraging when we have to go back to partners to try and reassure them that as far as the tourism centres are concerned, nothing is happening," says outgoing director of tourism, Fay Pickersgill.

Tourism has fallen dramatically since 9/11. New and emerging competition as well as economic slowdowns in major markets like the United States, Germany and Japan has pushed hotel occupancies down by 18-35 per cent.

In the last year, the tourism sector has shrunk and thousands have lost their jobs as small properties have closed and larger ones have laid off workers.

While there are no figures to substantiate his claims, Forstmayr believes that between 7,000 and 8,000 jobs have disappeared in the hotels, despite efforts to contain the cuts to fewer than 10 per cent as of a year ago, when the tourist industry accounted for some 50,000 direct jobs.

Jamaica Promotions (JAMPRO), a quasi-governmental trade promotion agency is projecting that some 1,960 new jobs will emerge from several tourist projects by 2003, but that is not enough to replace the ones lost.

"We are having to fight for every single thing we have. Our biggest market, Florida, is also our biggest competitor," John Bell, executive director of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) told the recently concluded Caribbean Media Exchange.

Riding on a wave of new confidence and several promotions, tourism officials were looking at a rebound in the marketplace just months ago. But the outlook now is not good.

First came the revelation of Malvo’s Jamaican heritage. That was followed by a sharp rise in the murder rate, which, at the beginning of October, was down 17 percent compared to 2001 but jumped last month. Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with about 940 people killed so far this year and 1,033 killed last year.

Barring any major event, like a war between the United States and Iraq, the industry anticipates that business will recover in the four-month winter season that begins Dec. 15, based on responses to current promotions. But much of that business is in discounted packages, some offering as much as 50 per cent off regular costs.

The JTB anticipates that Jamaica will end 2002 with at best a 1.6 per cent decline in performance. Latest figures already show an 11 per cent drop in stopover arrivals, with the six-month figures from January-June showing 634,000 guests, compared to 709,000 in the same period last year.

"There is nothing much we can do except to take a pro-active approach," Forstmayr said. "The Jamaica Tourist Board and its public relations firm Peter Martin and Associates are working behind the scenes to counter whatever negative press we have been getting."

Once again, the tourism sector is hoping that people will overlook Malvo’s role in the sniper shootings as an isolated incident. In the words of 16-year-old, high-school student Roxanne Williams: "Most people should be able to see that the actions of one misguided person should not be used to judge all of us."

 
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Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

JAMAICA: Tourist Sector Braces for Fallout from U.S. Sniper Trial

Zadie Neufville

KINGSTON, Nov 26 2002 (IPS) - As U.S. officials prepare to bring sniper suspects John Lee Malvo and John Allen Mohamed to trial, the Jamaican tourism sector is bracing itself for the fallout from the negative publicity surrounding a native son.
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