Editorial

It's crime that threatens our tourism growth prospects

Monday, June 26, 2017

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The steady growth of Jamaica's tourism should be a source of satisfaction for everyone, especially in light of its cornerstone role in the national economy.

This newspaper shares the enthusiasm of Tourism Minister Mr Edmund Bartlett who, along with other stakeholders in the leisure industry, greeted the one millionth stopover visitor to Jamaica since the start of the year.

“Not only does this mean a million opportunities for jobs and for earnings, but it also helps to quantify the actual revenue flow in foreign exchange into the country,” said Mr Bartlett.

Jamaicans were told that the mark achieved on June 15 represented the largest number of stopover arrivals over a six-month period. Mr Bartlett pointed out that “in tandem with this landmark achievement”, the tourism sector also earned in excess of US$1.2 billion for the same period.

Of course, this was gross earnings, not to be confused with retained earnings, which in Jamaica amounts to about 30 per cent of the gross figure. Mr Bartlett has repeatedly spoken of his Government's ambition not just to boost tourism arrivals still further, but to expand retained earnings to 40 per cent of gross in the foreseeable future.

That we expect will come with greater efficiency and productivity in the wider economy — not least the agricultural sector.

We are told that currently Jamaica's tourism is growing at a rate of 4.5 per cent. But for all the optimism regarding tourism, it remains vulnerable. Weather, which can include massive hurricanes and even mosquito-borne illnesses, can negatively affect tourism. However, the issue which has given tourism ministers sleepless nights over decades is Jamaica's high crime rate.

The current upsurge, particularly as it affects regions close to tourism resort areas in western Jamaica, is without doubt a source of deep worry to Mr Bartlett.

Hence his recent desperate, ill-considered comment that traditional media should downplay crime stories in the interest of the visitor industry.

Separate and apart from the reality that traditional news media has a prime responsibility, and is expected to objectively and truthfully inform its readers, listeners and watchers, Mr Bartlett himself is reported to have made the point that the media landscape has changed.

And that last, we would argue, is precisely the point. The onset of the Internet age and the subsequent bewilderingly rapid expansion of alternative media (social media, etc) mean traditional news outlets are often no longer first with the news. Indeed, a constant complaint at scenes of crime and tragic accidents are of onlookers indiscriminately taking pictures of the carnage and gore and uploading instantly for a limitless audience without a thought for victims, their relatives and friends.

Indeed, it is in that context that the traditional media must provide balance by remaining responsible, credible, truthful, and sensitive. In large measure, in Jamaica, traditional media houses are playing that important role, we believe.

In today's fast-moving world, muzzling the press — even through self-censorship — won't reduce the impact of crime on tourism. To the contrary, it could well make matters worse in terms of external perception of democracy and freedoms in the country. The only solution is for the Jamaican nation to mobilise itself to bring criminals to heel.

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