Tourism sector bracing for fallout; Holness slams Government’s slow response to lottery scam fallout
BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment email@example.com
A two-man Jamaican delegation, led by National Security Minister Peter Bunting, is now in the United States trying to get a voice in today's congressional hearing on the lottery scam.
At the same time, local tourism interests are bracing for a possible fallout from an exposé on the deadly fraud which was aired on major American television networks last night.
The congressional hearings, which are divided into two panels, will start today with Kim Nichols, the daughter of an elderly scam victim from the state of Maine, scheduled to share her father's experience.
Major Bill King of the York County Sheriff's Department in Maine, and representatives of the American Association of Retired Persons are also scheduled to testify before US lawmakers.
On the second panel, US legislators will ask bureaucrats to explain what they have been doing to tackle the scam, which has fleeced elderly victims of millions of US dollars.
Yesterday, Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill told the Jamaica Observer that the Jamaican delegation, which also includes state minister in the Ministry of Technology Julian Robinson, was engaged in a series of meetings aimed at placing before the Senate hearing a paper outlining the measures Jamaica is putting in place to deal with the lottery scam.
"They are there to ensure that the efforts of Jamaica are clearly presented to all, whether it is the media or the US Government," McNeill said.
But yesterday, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness criticised the lack of strategic planning to counter and mitigate the damage to brand Jamaica due to international press reports on the lottery scam.
According to Holness, the fall-out from the negative publicity surrounding the scam could have been anticipated long ago, and the relevant crisis management initiatives put in place.
"The news emerging today, that two Government ministers have rushed to the United States in a last-minute, ad-hoc response to last night's airing of the reportage by Dan Rather is evidence of a weak and negligent Government, which fails or refuses to plan," Holness said in a statement.
Meanwhile, McNeill told the Observer that agencies of his ministry, such as the Jamaica Tourist Board and their public relations arms in the United States, are busy interfacing with consumers in that market as they monitor the situation to see what, if any, backlash the TV report and the hearings will have.
The tourism minister said both events will cause the country to be seen in a bad light, and this is cause for great concern.
President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Evelyn Smith said her members have been deeply concerned about the impact the lottery scam can have and is having on the tourism industry.
"This negative publicity does not augur well for the country's image," she told the Observer, adding that there will always be persons who are not aware that the lottery scam is perpetrated only in a small area of the country.
The tourism industry, however, seems to have taken comfort in the fact that the exposé clearly points to the collaborative work being undertaken by Jamaican and US law enforcement authorities to tackle the problem, as well as the legislation which was recently passed in the House of Representatives.
But even as Smith pointed to the resilience of the industry, she noted that the full impact of this negative publicity on the sector's future cannot be predicted.
"We are very concerned, but the best the nation can do is ensure collaboration between Jamaica and United States law enforcement to tackle it," Smith said.
Meanwhile, the negative impact on the country comes amidst a decline in stopover arrivals.
Opposition spokesman on tourism Edmund Bartlett said the sector has recorded five consecutive months of decline in stopover arrivals since October last year.
He said the numbers are on average two per cent per month with January's fall-off running at 4.7 per cent. Jamaica's primary tourist markets — the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom — which account for 90 per cent of the traffic all registered declining numbers, according to Bartlett, with the Canadian market registering a 15 per cent decline in January alone.
The UK market, on the other hand, registered a 17 per cent decline last year and a 12 per cent fall-off for January this year.
But McNeill said the decline is due to a number of transitions which have taken place in the market. However, the focus is on diversifying the market so as to better weather the shocks.