Does Kingston have what it takes to be a tourist destination?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

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The proposed development of Kingston as a tourist destination, including a cruise shipping port, is an idea that needs closer examination, even as we strive to identify projects of the magnitude and size that can help us to achieve sustainable economic growth in Jamaica.

It is an idea that has been thrown around for many years by governments of both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party, and by certain people and organisations in the private sector. But it has remained just talk for good reasons.

At first glance and on superficial hearing, the idea sounds good, particularly when it is prefaced by reminiscences about the halcyon days of 50 or more years ago when there was the grand old Myrtle Bank hotel and a thriving business sector with vibrant shopping on Harbour and King streets.

At that time there was an authentic craft market and restaurants, including a very popular one at Victoria Pier. Hope Gardens was majestic and pristine, and dinner at the salubrious Blue Mountain Inn was a gastronomic delight.

However, if such a project is to move from talk to reality, we cannot afford to be guided solely by nostalgia and well-wishing while ignoring the problems which beset the capital city. Let’s consider a few compelling points:

First, the city has areas of high crime and the safety of tourists could not be guaranteed if they strayed away from the guided tour. Tourists cannot be confined to some "cordon sanitaire" within a small locale. For example, a city’s largest food market is usually worthy of a visit by tourists but not so the Coronation Market.

Second, the infrastructure and the built environment are, by and large, in bad condition and only improve as one leaves Kingston and move uptown St Andrew to the little hamlet of New Kingston. Roads, many buildings and sanitation leave much to be desired.

Third, the once magnificent Kingston Harbour — the seventh largest natural harbour in the world — is polluted. The harbour is ringed by a mental asylum, an ancient prison, a cement factory belching into the atmosphere, a fishing beach, and the relics of the industrial belt.

Fourth, building a cruise ship pier is a costly endeavour, unless it is going to be financed and constructed by foreign and/or local investors. None have yet evinced interest, but are willing to capitalise it if the pier is built, for example, with hotel accommodation. But the pier cannot exist in isolation from a comprehensive redevelopment of downtown Kingston, which is an even more massive undertaking.

Fifth, what are the attractions apart from the Bob Marley museum, historic Port Royal and maybe Devon House. Where, for example, would a tourist go to hear live reggae music?

It would be wonderful if Kingston could be developed as a tourist destination, but we have to be prepared to undertake the serious planning and hard work that are prerequisites for its achievement.

But while there is great potential, if we want to be honest, we would have to admit that city Kingston is not yet developed for Jamaicans, let alone tourists.

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