Jamaica’s National Park attracts more visitors since inscription
Executive Director of the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, Dr Susan Otuokon, points to the Blue Mountain Yacca tree at Holywell. This tree is endemic to the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which is a World Heritage Site. Photo: JIS

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica has seen an increase in visitors as a result of the inscription of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

Inscribed on July 3, 2015, the 26,000-hectare park was the first to put Jamaica on the world heritage stage.

One of 32 “mixed’ World Heritage Sites, and the first such in the Caribbean, it joined a list of other historic sites, such as the Great Wall of China, The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Taj Mahal of India, the Gros Pitons in St Lucia, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Heritage status is given to sites across the globe that are considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) for present and future generations.

Managed by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), a non-governmental organisation and a registered charity, the National Park is home to unique birds, frogs, the Homerus Swallowtail butterfly, the Jamaican coney, and four of Jamaica’s six endemic snakes.

It is located on the eastern end of Jamaica and spans sections of the parishes of St Andrew, St Thomas, Portland and a small section of southeast St Mary.

Executive Director of the JCDT, Dr Susan Otuokon, said the inscription has helped to increase tourists to the park’s main recreational sites, Holywell and the Blue Mountain Peak Trail and Portland Gap.

“We have also seen an increased interest in visiting the park, particularly from overseas visitors. We get a lot of emails with questions because people are seeing the site being promoted on the world heritage media,” she said, adding that the JCDT is working on getting more overseas visitors.

While acknowledging the challenges of getting to the mountainous areas, Dr Otuokon said there is a “special type of visitor” who is not afraid to reach the locations.

“There is a special type of visitor who is interested in world heritage, who is willing to travel long distances and willing to go through more rugged and luxurious accommodation and transportation to get to these very special locations,” she said.

“We are planning to tap into that market,” she continued, noting that the inscription has improved the visibility and promotion of the park.

Dr Otuokon said that UNESCO has a very strong globally recognised world heritage website and associated social media and others, which really do a good job of promoting the sites that have been inscribed.

“So, at least once a year they are calling and asking for photographs, videos and information that they can share on their websites and associated websites,” she added.

Dr. Otuokon pointed out that the number of visitors had dropped for a period as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent closure of the site. However, she said that visitors are returning, since people realised that the spread of COVID-19 is less likely to happen outdoors than indoors.

Apart from the 15 to 20 per cent earnings obtained from recreational tourism activities, the Executive Director said the JCDT has been receiving a small amount of funding from the Government since the heritage status, to manage the park.

“In fact, what the World Heritage Committee says to the Government is that they must take on the responsibility of protecting these special sites on behalf of the whole world,” Dr Otuokon added.

Grand Ridge of the Blue Mountains. Photo: JIS

She said that although UNESCO recognises the site, no financial contribution accompanies the inscription. However, she noted that because of world recognition, the Government and the JCDT have a better chance of receiving funding from UNESCO and other local and multilateral Foundations.

“When we apply for funding to the various Foundations by virtue of us being a world heritage site, it attracts more attention and there is more credibility with respect to the importance of the site and the importance of preserving the cultural and natural heritage associated with it,” Dr Otuokon noted.

Reggae music became the second element to be inscribed on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This style of music, which originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s, is now known worldwide.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, who led the Reggae Music inscription held in Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius in 2018, was overjoyed, following the announcement.

“It shows the popularity of Reggae music across the world and the captivating influence of the Jamaican art form,” she said during an interview.

The Moore Town maroons in Portland, who received World Heritage recognition in 2008, live within the community buffer zone outside the National Park.

“We used to get visitors to the area but since the inscription more visitors are coming. More persons want to interface with the land, more persons want to meet the people, and more persons want to see all the attractions that we have in the valley,” Colonel of the Moore Town maroons, Wallace Sterling said.

Sterling said that some people still do not realise “the tremendous impact the heritage designation has had on the people in the valley”.

“We end up getting more visitors. It is just up to us to ensure that we continue to protect this designation. The worst thing that can ever happen to us, as a people, is for them to delist us or to uninscribe us; that would be a disaster. So, we have to ensure that we continue to maintain the site in a pristine way,” he said.

In addition to world heritage recognition, Jamaica has served on several inter-governmental committees over the years. These included the Executive Board of UNESCO during the period 1970-1976.

Jamaica’s mandate spanned the periods: 1974-1976; 1980-1981; 1981-1985; 1991-1995, 2001-2005 and 2007-2009, resulting in the country participating in 51 sessions, as both chairperson and representative, according to the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. The most recent mandate was for the period 2018-2021, led by Minister Grange as Jamaica’s representative.

While on the Executive Board, Jamaica served on four committees, including the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which was chaired by Minister Grange.

Currently, the country is serving on the inter-governmental committees for the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This is for the periods, 2018-2022 and 2021-2025, respectively.

Additionally, Jamaica served on the World Heritage Committee from 2014 to 2017 and has again submitted its candidature for 2023 for four years.

Jamaica is a signatory to four culture conventions under UNESCO, including the 2011 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

Efforts are being made by the Government for the inscription of Port Royal on the World Heritage List, similar to the one done for the Reggae inscription.

Port Royal, a town located at the end of the Palisadoes strip in Kingston and former home to pirates during the 17th century, has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List since February 2009.

The world heritage nomination for The Sunken City of Port Royal was submitted in 2018. According to the Ministry, the nomination dossier was evaluated in 2018 and was addressed by the World Heritage Committee in 2019 at its 43rd Session, resulting in a deferral of the file.

“The deferral was reviewed extensively in 2020 by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust’s technical team with the intention of reassessing and resubmitting a new nomination,” according to the Ministry.

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