Ocho Rios tackles 'white collar harassment'

BY RENAE DIXON Sunday Observer staff reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 14, 2015

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WITH the Carnival Cruise Lines expected to pull out of Ocho Rios soon, and with constant complaints of harassment in the town, stakeholders have continued to make a plea for people to desist from harassing visitors to the town. However, those being given most of the blame say they are not the only perpetrators.


Taxi operators and craft vendors have been singled out as those responsible for the high level of harassment in Ocho Rios. However, at least one tour bus operator has said that the groups are not the only ones.


Speaking at a stakeholders' meeting held at the Ocho Rios High School last week, tour bus operator Pamella Broderick charged that 'white collar harassment' was taking place in the town. She said that she has had experience where store operators profusely harassed tourists, trying to get them to buy items.


"I have had experience where the store owner calls me asking me to take back persons because they want to buy something," she said, adding that store owners try to get tour operators to take the visitors to their store in order to convince them to buy their products.


Broderick also pointed out that the products in craft markets were being bought, taken overseas, and replicated, then sold in some of these stores.


President of the Ocho Rios Craft Market Nadine Brown said that tourist harassment will continue if opportunities are not presented equally in the town.


"We have done everything, yet our shops are empty," she said.


"Craft traders have gone through all the necessary training yet visitors to the town are being directed to shop elsewhere, and tourists are being told not to go into the craft markets. Harassment will never be over until we start sharing the pie equally," she stated.


An emotional Brown said that craft traders were struggling financially, although they continue to operate businesses.


"Craft traders are struggling with their mortgages...we have to be taking our children out of college," she continued.


Brown said that, while the craft traders have 'quality' products, they have few customers.


Even as the Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams and other stakeholders call for people to do more in crime fighting, Brown said that the effects of the lack of business for craft traders could see an increase in crime.


"When our children are not able to go to school you are looking at future criminals...you are going to have something bigger on your hands," Brown stressed.


Chairman of the Resort Board Dr Roosevelt Crooks told craft traders that he feels their pain and called for the continuation of craft vendors being given an opportunity at the port.


"Let us get our CCTV working so we can prove that we can do any handling of harassment," Dr Crooks stated.


Dennis Hickey, executive director of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), called for different approaches to be taken when selling products.


"We have to try to offer service in a way that we are not forcing," he said while calling on people to find new ways of marketing.


And even as they battle with the issue of few customers, some craft traders continue to operate without the requisite licence. When the issue was brought up at the stakeholders' meeting last week, Hickey said that the groups were not meeting the required standards and licensing cannot take place under those circumstances. He said the law states that the shops have to be operating from a designated area.


"You have to own or lease the land. The Fern Gully, Swansea and Mammee Bay craft traders have still not been able to meet those requirements."


According to Hickey, the Fern Gully craft traders are operating on public thoroughfare, the Swansea craft traders have not been able to solve a lease agreement with their landlord and those in Mammee Bay are operating on lands which do not belong to them.


He said that, while efforts have been made to have craft traders relocated from these locations to other craft markets, they have refused.


In the meantime, Dr Williams called on citizens to do all they can to combat the number of crimes committed in the area.


"Ocho Rios must work with the police to get this problem under control before it spirals to a place it should not go," he stated.


He pointed out that tourists are heading to other parishes.


Many persons expressed concern that enough was not being done to ensure that Ocho Rios remains a major tourist town.


Michael Belnavis, councillor caretaker for the Ocho Rios Division, said that with a major cruise line moving out of Ocho Rios, preparations should have already been made for other cruise lines to visit the town.


Hickey assured Belnavis and other concerned stakeholders that "the ministry is doing everything possible.


"Every effort is being made to maintain Ocho Rios as a premier destination," he said.



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