Jamaica’s booming tourism industry has taken a hit as a result of four days of gun battles in a Kingston neighborhood where Christopher “Dudus” Coke, wanted for extradition by the United States on drug and weapons trafficking charges, based his operations.
Since the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency in the area, some tourist hotels and resorts report a high number of cancellations, airlines have cancelled or rescheduled flights and the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans to defer non-essential travel to Kingston.
Based on traffic during the first three months of this year, Jamaica was poised to have its best tourism year on record. More than 500,000 foreigners traveled to Jamaica in the three-month period, a 9.2 percent increase over the same period a year ago.
But the Ministry of Tourism says the country’s resorts have had no new bookings since the siege began May 24, killing dozens of people in the Tivoli Gardens section of Kingston.
The tourism business generates an estimated $350 million in revenue, 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The government has already planned a $10 million advertising and publicity campaign to counteract the news of the shootings, and some resorts were offering special deals.
In Kingston, not far from the gunfights, is Trench Town, a Rastafarian enclave brimming with red, green and black flags and made famous by the Bob Marley hit No Woman, No Cry. The Trench Town Culture Yard, a home where Bob Marley learned to play the guitar, is now a museum. When a reporter approached, a surprised tour guide rushed to the entrance, an infant on her hip. There had been no visitors since May 24, she said, and she hadn’t expected anyone.
The swanky pool bar at the upscale Spanish Court hotel in New Kingston, the city’s business district, was nearly empty. Among the few people there were Meghan Fabulous, a fashion designer, and her company president Sacha Hason, who came to Kingston to do a trunk show.
The trip had been planned for months, but they nearly canceled it after learning about the State Department advisory. “We’re like, `What? This is crazy!’ ” Hason said. “Our experience from Montego Bay was that the people were really relaxed, easy-going. This was like a shock, what happened.”
They decided to make the trip anyway, but hired extra security to follow them from the airport and accompany them to the Bob Marley Museum and a luxury resort in nearby St. Andrew parish.
“I thought about canceling, but my husband assured me we’d be staying far from the action,” said Angela Talbott, a private security analyst from Miami who was embarking on a week-long stay in Kingston.
The impact of the shootings spread to some of Jamaica’s more popular tourist destinations.
“If you’re going to Montego Bay or Negril, you’re fine,” Samuel Logan, regional manager for the Americas at iJet, a risk assessment firm, told the Washington Post. “You couldn’t be farther away from Kingston unless you were on another island.”
Even so, at Secrets, a 700-room all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, about 120 guests canceled their Memorial Day weekend reservations.
“We were finally seeing some positive growth in Jamaica. We over here are hoping like hell this thing in Kingston doesn’t stop it,” said Delwin Rochester, Secrets’ resident manager.
“I was worried before we actually got here and saw how calm it was,” said Katie Elliot, a Secrets guest and hospital supplies saleswoman from Memphis. “It seems a lot safer here than at home.”