JA visitors harassed, tourism in trouble

OCHO RIOS, Jamaica – Minister of Tourism Aloun Assamba has summoned an urgent meeting of key players in the tourist industry to deal with mounting complaints about harassment in the island’s resort areas.

Speaking at the 44th annual general meeting of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios on Saturday, she said: “It is becoming a problem again, and I don’t want it to get back to where it was, before we do something about it,” according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

Ms Assamba said some of those who are said to be involved in harassing visitors are persons employed in the industry and who more than anyone else should be trying to protect it. These include bus operators, tour guides and tour reps, craft vendors and others.

“You would not know the number of letters that I get,” she said. “The complaints are not all against workers in the industry but it seems that, particularly in the Ocho Rios area, the levels of harassment have increased.”

The level of visitor harassment plays a key role in determining the health of tourism, and cruise line pulled out of Montego Bay four years ago when it was felt that the levels had grown too high there.

The meeting by tourism interests is expected to include all tourism liaison officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Port Authority of Jamaica, the Tourism Product Development Company and the Association of Jamaican Attractions. The Minister did not give the date of the meeting, but said when convened, it will be pursuing “aggressive, corrective measures”.

Contacted last night, Jamaica Hotel And Tourist Association president Godfrey Dyer said: “we have certainly seen a resurgence in harassment.”

Responsibility for securing the island`s resorts passed officially from the Resort Patrol Unit to the Jamaica Constabulary Force in November 2003, despite strong protests from tourism interests in Ocho Rios.

“When that happened we saw significant improvement,” Mr. Dyer said. “But things have begun to deteriorate again. Harassers no longer fear the police.”

Ms. Assamba said she was concerned about the role of the police in the resort towns.

“We actually have been involved in training the police recruits at the Police Academy, but it seems that somewhere it has broken down,” she said. “I am not sure if the police are patrolling or just staying in one place, but I have been getting more and more complaints from visitors and locals that the harassment is on the increase.”

The minister said she is planning to call on the St. Ann Chamber of Commerce and other chambers of commerce in resort areas to work with the ministry towards ensuring that the country is able to reduce the level of harassment.

Speaking in an interview with The Gleaner at the weekend, the minister said visitors and local people must be able to walk the streets without being harassed and that she is not going to allow this to continue.

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