JO - Protecting the tourist industry
Protecting the tourist industry
Thursday, August 24, 2006
THERE was an unfortunate tragedy earlier this month when an Australian tourist was found dead in his hotel room. It was refreshing to hear Opposition Spokesman on Tourism Ed Bartlett speaking in positive terms. In his response, he said words to the effect that it was an isolated incident and that visitors should continue to see Jamaica as a good destination to holiday.
What Ed Bartlett said was refreshing because there was a time when things were not done that way politically, especially by the JLP.
The necessity to market Jamaica as a tourist destination has been recognised ever since Emanci-pation in 1838. Sugar was king at the time of Emancipation but the newly emancipated men and women walked off the sugar estates in large numbers. The toll roads that had been set up - mainly to make life more difficult for them so that they would return to the estates - did not work. The newly freed slaves resisted the toll roads.
So, the Indians were brought in as indentured labourers. So were the Chinese but they never worked on the estates, and the German indentured labourers did not last too long on the sugar estates either. The estate owners therefore turned to bananas, but even then that was not seen as being enough.
In 1891, there was the Great Exhibition. The location was where Wolmer's Boys' School stands today. This was when Syrians came here to sell cloth after which many of them stayed back. Today, their ancestors are a part of the Jamaican community.
While the Great Exhibition was all about marketing Jamaica as a tourist destination, the aim was not achieved. It was not until an American banana boat captain, Lorenzo D Baker, decided to carry a few tourists on his banana boats to Port Antonio that the tourist trade really started.
Despite the fact that we have coffee, sugar, spices, mangoes, coconuts and bauxite, tourism remains to this day the largest earner of foreign exchange - much needed for all types of imports.
We need to understand, however, that, as a nation, doing our best to market the product does not mean that there should be a difference between how we behave and how we market ourselves. In other words, we should not be guilty of false advertising. Some time ago, a prominent hotelier said that we would never treat tourists well until we learn to treat ourselves well.
There may be a certain amount of merit in that, but reality has proven that philosophy not to be totally true. The truth is that, in Jamaica, it is safer to be a tourist than a local. I suspect that the reason for it being safer for tourists than locals is that the dons have made it quite clear to the "shottas" not to interfere with the tourists since they cannot tell the difference between a tourist and a drug mule disguised as a tourist.
But the merit of that statement will come to bear if the illegal drug problem is licked once and for all. Realistically though, when will that be?
But then again, white foreign social workers have always had an easier time than locals in some communities.
Perhaps it is part of the mental slavery. Perhaps the local people understand that there is no point in harming someone who can only help them. Yet, because we need to remove ourselves from mental slavery, it is a drawback of the tourist trade and locals drooling over foreigners only reinforce certain notions.
However, there have been great attempts in recent times to bring tourists from different parts of the world. Today, there are tourists of all races, including African-Americans. I have always been of the opinion that this is one area that can be developed since the African-Americans might feel a need to be in a country where the majority are of African descent. We need to market tourism around matters of African awareness.
This would include a greater involvement of the Rastafarians and not just in the area of reggae music. I am of the opinion that the way in which many Rastafarians live in a co-operative manner can be of great interest to tourists.
Millions of people from around the world have visited Israel to see the Kibbutz and other forms of co-operative living there. Today, there may be difficulties because of the wars in the Middle East.
And it does not matter whether or not you agree with Israel's foreign policy, especially in the wars in the Middle East. You may or may not like ants, but as Ghana founder Kwame Nkrumah observed, they act together when it comes to matters of collective interest.
What is needed now is for there to be worker ownership in the hotel industry and one great way to do this is through the co-operative movement. What is needed is for Jamaicans to have the confidence that Marcus Garvey said that we need so that we can get away from granulated slavery where you might own things but pay heavy mortgages, which makes you a slave to your job.