Tourism, BPO sectors survive negative image cast by lotto scamming

Tourism, BPO sectors survive negative image cast by lotto scamming

BY PAUL HENRY Co-ordinator, Crime/Court Desk

Thursday, August 06, 2015

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ONE of Jamaica's leading hoteliers, Josef Forstmayr, has said that lotto scamming, which has painted the island in a negative light on the international stage, hasn't affected the tourism product in Montego Bay, St James.

Though Montego Bay's image was said to have taken a hit somewhat, tourism and the multimillion-dollar Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector have not only weathered the storm brought on by the illicit activity, but have been growing.

Forstmayr and ItelBPO Chief Executive Officer Yoni Epstein made the disclosure during a special Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre to discuss Montego Bay's progress as it prepares to mark its 35th anniversary as a city later this year.

"Jamaica, in general, has been able to overcome many of the various images that come along with negative issues because of our strength. And because of our strength, we deal with things aggressively -- we talk about it, we deal with it. We don't hide it, we don't ignore it, we don't sweep it under the carpet," said Forstmayr, the managing director of Round Hill Hotel & Villas.

He said that this honesty and proactive approach to the problem, which includes the passing of legislation to combat lottery scamming, has set Jamaica apart from other countries with similar problems.

"Our industry is growing. We are doing well. We have overcome a very difficult period affecting world tourism," Forstmayr said.

Forstmayr said investment in the sector by Sandals chairman Gordon 'Butch' Stewart was responsible for a significant amount of the growth. He said the investment had ensured the survival from competition that had "wiped some out of operation".

Lotto scamming -- which saw millions of US dollars being bilked from unsuspecting elderly Americans -- emanated out of St James and quickly spread to other western Jamaica parishes as more Jamaicans got involved in the illicit activity. A number of Jamaicans, some of whom have flaunted the wealth of their ill-gotten gains, have been arrested and hit with stiffer penalties due to legislation that helped with the crackdown on the activity.

A Jamaican was earlier this year extradited to the US where he was sentenced after pleading guilty to scamming-related charges. Other extradition cases are reportedly pending.

During Monday's meeting, Central St James Member of Parliament Lloyd B Smith said that St James' image had been affected in some respects because of the illegal activity.

"There is some amount of empirical evidence, but not enough," Smith said. "But it is safe to say that Montego Bay's image has received some amount of damage. A lot of it is perception more than reality."

He added: "There is a perception they have down here that you are a part of it or you are condoning it. The view has been expressed that the citizens down here are condoning it, but it is not so."

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