Do Our Visitors Feel Safe and Comfortable? And Do We?

January 15th, 2017

Over the weekend, I read a story (reproduced in a number of overseas newspapers online) about a bus crash that occurred a year ago, which resulted in the death of a tourist and the injury of 18 others. The bus was reportedly overtaking at high speed along a stretch of road in Trelawny on its way back to the Royal Caribbean cruise ship from Dunn’s River Falls. Now eight of the passengers are suing the cruise line for damages. The passengers allege that the driver was “speeding, driving erratically and changing lanes frequently,” and the lawsuit alleges that when passengers asked him to slow down, the tour operator told them “the bus driver was driving the way he normally drove and/or the way everyone typically drove in Jamaica.”

Royal Caribbean International passengers at the scene of a Jan. 14, 2016 tour bus crash in Jamaica that left one dead. Passengers are suing the cruise line for the accident. (Photo: Miami Herald)

Royal Caribbean International passengers at the scene of a Jan. 14, 2016 tour bus crash in Jamaica that left one dead. Passengers are suing the cruise line for the accident. (Photo: Miami Herald)

This incident highlights a growing concern I have had in recent years about the careless way in which many tourists are treated in Jamaica, especially on our roads. Of course, we know that speeding and crazy overtaking is the “normal” modus operandi in which many bus drivers conduct themselves. But why do we tolerate it, and why are tourists expected to tolerate it? I have personally observed how Jamaicans behave towards tourists, while they are sitting on the beach, relaxing with a book and minding their own business. Those in Negril (one example) are literally preyed on at regular intervals by people trying to sell them drugs, sex, trinkets – or all three. I am painfully aware of this because I could easily pass for a tourist myself. The last time I was in Negril – just standing and waiting for someone in a parking lot – I was propositioned three times in the space of five minutes. One of the men was literally hiding behind a bush, lying in wait, and hissed at me; he had some ganja for sale. And, like the windscreen wipers at Kingston traffic lights, the hustlers don’t always take “no” for an answer.

No thank you, if I wanted some ganja I would advertise the fact. If I wanted a night of uninhibited sex with a dreadlocked man, I would go looking for it. If I wanted a wild ride in a bus or on a motorbike, I would seek it out. But no, thanks. (Yes, like most visitors I am polite in my rejection).

Negril Beach: If he/she is lying in the sun with a good book to read, this is usually an indication that the tourist wants to be left in peace, at least for a while.

Negril Beach: If he/she is lying in the sun with a good book to read, this is usually an indication that the tourist wants to be left in peace, at least for a while.

Back to the roads. Several tourists have been killed by cars racing along the main road in Negril in the past few years. Visitors are relaxed, enjoying themselves, and may be distracted and quite unaware of the dangers of marauding Jamaican drivers. A friend of mine from overseas, who walks with a stick because she has a bad back, had a near miss on that road. The same kind of situation used to prevail with jet skis – thankfully now somewhat curtailed, although I am not too sure what the rules are – with some awful accidents that were not necessarily made public. Being in the company of tourists seems to encourage young men to behave in an exaggeratedly macho fashion, showing off their muscles and flashing enticing smiles. It’s quite embarrassing, sometimes. Part of this act for the tourists involves behaving recklessly, and getting their targets themselves to behave likewise.

I will now do anything I can to avoid tourist resorts; and if I do go to one, I prefer to stay in an all-inclusive hotel (which is a soul-destroying experience, admittedly). Jamaica’s tourism product markets itself as so cool and easy-going – everything “Irie, mon.” I would rather spend an hour hanging out on the waterfront, watching the boys dive into the perilously toxic waters of Kingston Harbour; or at a roadside bar in the country. I feel less threatened.

As a non-tourist, I just don’t “feel alright” with Jamaica’s tourism product. Are Jamaicans really comfortable with it?

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10 Responses to “Do Our Visitors Feel Safe and Comfortable? And Do We?”

  1. Roger Ferron says:

    I couldn’t have clarified the issues in this article any better! The harassment received is beyond comprehension. I am a second generation Jamaican born in England and I feel close to my Jamaican people but embarrassed at the way the young men haggle their wares including their physical selves for sale. Better police presence is necessary to protect tourism revenue overall in those resort areas. Otherwise local merchandiser will lose out when people opt for the other island destinations.

  2. ashley says:

    I have never seen an article i agree with so much. I express the same concerns and disgust with our tourism industry especially the way tourists are treated its really quite an embarassnent and every year its clearly getting worst.

  3. EmmaLewis says:

    Thanks, Ashley. It makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed. I don’t think the problem is getting any better…

  4. EmmaLewis says:

    Yes – it is very embarrassing. I’ve lived in Jamaica for a long time and I cringe when I see it happening – both for the young men and for the visitor. I do think the tourism players (hotels etc) need to adopt a strategy to deal with it. It’s not so much a police matter in a way as it is to educate Jamaicans properly that this is unacceptable behavior.

  5. Chris Holvor says:

    It’s a product of many things-including economy and the overriding knowledge that anyone ‘from foreign’has money to dispose of.Some of the tourists who repeatedly visit Jamaica for sex are blameworthy also,the way tourists are treated/ripped off by some will doubtless mean less repeat visits.

    Is there an answer to this?
    By the time this is addressed the only tourists there will be will be those locked in ‘all inclusive garrisons’- and the few looking for a smoke and sex. The visitors who venture out will do so on planned tours and people who need business will lose out.

  6. EmmaLewis says:

    Yes. I agree. What you have described there is almost what is happening now. There needs to be much more impact on the local economy in terms of small business, entrepreneurship and supplying goods and services to the tourism sector…even if the tourists are all locked in those “garrisons.” Thank you for your comments.

  7. Thomas colvin says:

    The amount of garbage and the terrible stink it generates and the rats and killings are enough to have me seeking other vacation islands after 30 years of Jamaican vacations. Way to much begging harassment and disrespect directed towards tourist. I have had enough as have many others.

  8. […] passengers on a speeding Jamaican tour bus have sued the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, sparked a blog post from me this week. We are furiously building huge hotels, but it seems to me that those Jamaicans […]

  9. EmmaLewis says:

    Oh dear, this is too sad. I love Jamaica and I love living here, although as I said – I avoid tourist resorts! All the best.

  10. Kay says:

    I too must say I’m disgusted by the way the drivers drive on the road, I went home on holiday and took a taxi, the driver was driving very fast, using his mobile and behaving unprofessional. I had to tell him to let me out the car, my sisters they were scared and even then he continues to drive crazy, mark he will never see this face in his car again. I know that the more trips they make, the more money they earn. But they can do it safely.