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DAY OF INFAMY

How 9/11 affected Jamaica's auto industry

BY BRIAN BONITTO
Associate Editor —
Auto & Entertainment
bonittob@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 08, 2017

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KENT LaCroix remembers being glued to the radio on hearing a plane had crashed into New York's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“My immediate reaction was 'This couldn't be happening!'. But as the events unfolded, I came to realisation that this was indeed happening as another plane crashed into the tower... A chill came over me,” LaCroix told Jamaica Observer's Auto magazine.

Monday will mark the 16th anniversary of coordinated terrorist attacks on United States soil by Islamic militants, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives and injured more than 6,000. Twenty Jamaicans were numbered among the dead. George W Bush, then US president, subsequently waged a War on Terror on the mastermind Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He was killed in May 2011.

LaCroix is head of the 12-member umbrella group Automobile Dealers' Association. He recalls the effects on the new-car industry were immediate.

“There was an immediate fallout in the tourism sector, and tourism and the auto industry are linked. The purchases of the new cars from the tourism sector is a vibrant one, so with a reduction (in purchases), it negatively affected the auto industry,” he said.

“So, if the visitors aren't coming then the demand for rent-a-cars will be minimised. And for that year, and the year after, rent-a-car companies didn't buy any cars,” he continued.

The decline in air travel had dramatic effect on Caribbean states. At the time, regional airlines, including Bahamas Air, Air Jamaica, and BWIA (British West Indian Airways) recorded significant losses, and were not able benefit from the bailout packages the US carriers were receiving from the US Government. According to the Associated Press, cruise ship arrivals were also hard hit. Jamaica saw a decline by 28.7 per cent, Puerto Rico had a 25.8 per cent drop, while there was a 19.6 per cent dip in the Cayman Islands.

Shalman Scott, who operated Champagne Tours and Car Rental in Montego Bay for more than 25 years, recalled watching the horrific event unfold on television in 2001.

“I remember seeing 'America Under Attack' flashing across the television screen. It was scary,” he said.

Scott, now retired, was a former mayor of Montego Bay. His business, which he shuttered in 2006, was located at Sangster International Airport.

He said the fallout was evident by December 15 — the start of the tourist season.

“Ground transportation is a large segment of the tourism infrastructure... and the impact was cataclysmic. The fall out was monumental. Many of the tourists who came in the island after that were ones were of necessity — those who had come for funerals or dire emergency; no vacationers. The significant flow of people coming had stopped ... It was a period of great uncertainty,” he said. “Several up-and-coming car rental companies had to close down; there were lay offs and redundancies. So, the same thing happening to businesses was happening to individuals — there was a convergence of a lowering of economic activity due to a reduction of income flow.”

Scott said the tragedy showed the over-reliance by Jamaica on the North American market.

“While we're grateful for North American visitors, we need to seek additional markets,” he said. “We live in an interdependent world and it also shows the world economy has been tremendously integrated. The actions of one group anywhere, can create serious repercussions on other industries globally.”

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