With a reported death toll now topping 60 and travel alerts issued by its three largest source markets, Jamaican officials fear that violence in the nation’s capital of Kingston could derail a tourism industry that has been enjoying great success.
Kingston airport has been blocked intermittently over the past couple of days and several flights from the U.S. and UK were cancelled yesterday. However, Air Canada reports that its service to Kingston continues. “It is business as usual for now, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” Air Canada VP Global Sales Claude Morin told TakeOffeh.com. “(Yesterday’s) flight left Toronto earlier and everything is normal.”
Although the violence has been centered on several poor sections of West Kingston, tourism officials fear the impact of graphic news reports showing heavily armed soldiers, police, and gunfire. It’s a stark contrast to the island’s sun, fun, reggae and rum tourism image.
Tourism accounts for 25% of Jamaica’s gross domestic product, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and the country markets itself aggressively as an all-inclusive vacation hotspot. 1.8-million visitors answered the call in 2009. Canadian arrivals have increased significantly in the past couple of years.
Violence is nothing new to Jamaica – there were 1,700 murders on the island last year, among a population of just 2.8-million. But most of it occurs in poor urban neighbourhoods far from the gated compounds of tourist resorts – and it doesn’t usually make international headlines.
Very few tourists visit Kingston and civil unrest in the slums of Jamaica’s capital should have little to no impact on the island’s tourist resorts. But as Mexico and other destinations have learned, a perception of danger is enough to scare away many potential visitors.
Speaking to CNN, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said the ‘triple impact’ of the alerts “from our three main destinations is very challenging.”
The Globe and Mail has an interesting article today about the root of the violence and the ties between Jamaican politics and major drug lord Christopher (Dudas) Coke.