This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the issuance of a level-three travel advisory by the United States urging its citizens to reconsider visiting Jamaica, and listing eight of the country’s 14 parishes that are considered an “increased risk” due to crime.
The US State Department on Tuesday, May 31, issued the travel advisory for Jamaica, leaving many stakeholders in tourism and the general business sector frightened and stunned by the likely impact of the development.
In fact, with the advisory being issued just ahead of the summer travel season, the advisory singled out the popular resort town of Montego Bay in St James as an area to avoid, due to crime.
Interestingly, there has been a level of silence from several stakeholder groups in Jamaica in relation to the advisory, with only one key and unnamed tourism stakeholder countering that Jamaica is one of the safest destinations for visitors.
Travel advisories from the US are nothing new or strange to Jamaica, other Caribbean nations or elsewhere in the world, as collectively, many nations have had similar warnings being issued in respect of areas within their respective borders.
Interestingly again, amid such advisories, generally speaking, tourists seemingly have not been significantly swayed to leave from, or decline to travel to the countries that have been named in the advisories.
As highlighted by many social media users, the latest advisory on Jamaica is being seen as quite ironic because in the United States, the media has widely revealed that over 200 cases of mass shootings have occurred since the start of the year. The two most recent mass shootings happened there late last month when an 18-year-old man shot 19 children and two teachers dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; and in Tulsa last Wednesday, when a man shot up a medical building at a hospital, leaving three persons dead.
And the details of yet another mass shooting in the US is emerging today, Sunday, June 5. A shooting near a Tennessee nightclub early Sunday led to three deaths and 14 people suffering gunshot wounds and other injuries, police said.
Still, the US has warned Americans not to travel to the Jamaican parishes of Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston, St Andrew, St Ann, St Catherine, St James and Westmoreland.
“Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts,” the advisory said.
“Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents,” it added.
The travel advisory also stated that emergency services vary throughout the island, and response times may vary from US standards.
“The homicide rate reported by the Government of Jamaica has, for several years, been among the highest in the Western Hemisphere,” the advisory continued.
It also provided a breakdown of areas in the eight parishes that US Government personnel are prohibited from travelling to, adding that they are also prohibited from using public buses, and from driving outside of prescribed areas of Kingston at night.
In relation to St James, the US authorities warned their citizens against venturing into areas of Montego Bay, including Canterbury, Flanker, Glendevon, Mount Salem, Norwood and Rose Heights.
Late last month, Rose Heights was the scene of a deadly gun attack, which resulted in the deaths of three persons and the wounding of two others.
Statistics released by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) on May 27, revealed that murders are up by seven per cent nationally.
There were 594 murders recorded up to May 27, compared to 555 for the corresponding period last year.
To the credit of the JCF, they have been ramping up their operations and reaping noticeable success the efforts to retrieve illegal guns and apprehending gang members and wanted persons.
Over the past weeks, a number of men who were wanted for serious crime were killed during armed conflicts with the police, and some others have either surrendered or been otherwise taken into custody.
The most recent incident occurred on Thursday night when the police said one of St James’ most notorious figures, Odane Christopher, and one of his cronies, were fatally shot during a confrontation with the police on the St Catherine leg of the Edward Seaga (North-South) Highway.
In another high-profile arrest by the police, dancehall producer Linval Thompson, popularly known as ‘Shab Don’, was held on Friday as a person of interest in relation to last month’s triple murder in Rose Heights, St James. He is to be questioned in the coming days.
Amid the local crime surge and the US travel advisory, a key tourism stakeholder reminded naysayers that “Jamaica’s record of visitor safety is still one of the highest in the world”.
Added the tourism player who was not authorised to speak publicly on the travel advisory, but spoke to Loop News on condition of anonymity on Thursday: “Less than one per cent of the visitors who come here have had any infractions (against them).
“So, whereas we recognise that advisories are made from time to time in the interest of the destinations that make them, we have to continue to strive to make our destination top of mind to our visitors, and to increase even our repeat business from the (current) 42 per cent to 50, 60 per cent,” the tourism stakeholder stated.
On the issue of crime, the tourism player urged people involved in criminal activities to stop, as their actions have the potential to negatively impact the tourism sector.
“We want to urge the few people who are causing a negative impact on the destination to desist. Stop it, because it is potentially damaging to the market,” the tourism interest appealed.
However, there were different perspectives on social media platforms relative to the US travel advisory for Jamaica, with several persons even imploring the Jamaican Government to craft its own advisory warning Jamaicans in relation to the United States.
Facebook user Cecil Whyte asked: “Why Jamaica don’t put out an advisory too for travel to the United States?”
He shared that the advisory should state: “Be very careful, you can be caught in a random shooting on the street, subway, (in) church, grocery store, hospital, (and) pretty much anywhere you go, there could be a mass shooting.
“So be very careful about travelling to the USA.”
Another Facebook user, Barbara Blair Shaw, concurred with Whyte’s comments on the issue.
“Cecil Whyte, (I) agree with you. I don’t know why people, and especially our Jamaicans, like to bring down our beautiful island,” she posted.
“I go home every year and go everywhere and have a great time. When I go now I stay for months. Love my beautiful island, Jamaica, and wouldn’t give it up for anyone or anything,” she added.
While agreeing that the Jamaican authorities could reasonably issue an advisory against travel to certain areas of the United States, Susane Fredericks said the seriousness of the crime situation in Jamaica is not false.
She commented that, “Well, It’s not untrue. But we could put out an advisory about travel to the US, due to mass random shootings and general mayhem and police violence against minorities.”
Another social media user, Lisa Allen, broke ranks with the general views being expressed, and shared that she had no issue with the US travel advisory.
“Well, it is what it is, nothing is wrong with advising one’s citizen,” she wrote.
She added: “I will always sell my beautiful country for its lush vegetation, beaches, it’s full nature in all its glory.
“However, when I am asked about the crime, I (try to) be very open and transparent.
“What’s the point covering up when the digital spheres allows any and every one to tap in? It is just what it is,” Allen stated.
Janice Burgher is of the opinion that there could be a motive behind the issuance of the advisory based on its timing.
“This (the advisory) is definitely to divert tourists to another popular tourists destination,” Burgher opined.
Continuing, she said: “It was recently announced that Jamaica was booked to capacity for the summer, so this is being done to discourage visitors, or to have them cancel their bookings.
“These advisories are points to be taken into consideration when visiting any country outside of yours…. Crime is everywhere and people just need to be vigilant and let good sense prevail,” she wrote.
There were also a few persons who, aside from ripping into the advisory, asserted that tourists are safer in Jamaica than Jamaicans in general. Among those with that viewpoint was Jedidiah Feliciano Thorpe.
“America plz! Tourists safer than me out here. Right now Jamaica is one of the most booked out tourist destinations in the Caribbean,” he said, adding that “At least the tourists recognising ‘the chicken little sky is falling’ headlines by America on Jamaica is overblown most times.
“Many tourist who come here say they feel far safer here than in their own America.”
Also agreeing with that position was Dwight Buchanan, who wrote: “I have been going to Jamaica (for) 27 years, (so) yes safe for tourists, but not so for locals.
“Most locals are wonderful people,” he continued.
But Shai Sir-Xander Grey suggested that “Jamaicans living in Jamaica are advising their own not to leave their houses. Don’t be mad at the US advising its own.”
On Instagram, applegirljaye reasoned that, “The hard reality is the USA is safer for Jamaicans than Jamaica is for its locals, and (the) plot twists when it comes to Americans, ’cause they are safer in Jamaica than they are back in their country, so that a just my views.”
But Karineespence3 did not agree with that comment, and described it as “nonsense”.
She further wrote: “Unuh come on social media and talk all sort a nonsense, because nobody nah bad mind yuh a America and shoot and kill yuh just so.
“In Jamaica, nuh mine sharp u (your) family set yu (you) up and rob you when yu come deh, so stop talk nonsense on the media!” the Instagram user demanded.
On Twitter, @loudelja agreed with the advisory.
“They are right. Do not come. Jamaica is not safe for Jamaicans who live here,” the individual tweeted.
Twitter user, Susanne Brown, however, did not agree with that view, and questioned: “So America safe to live?
“When you send your child to school in Jamaica, they are coming home. (In) America, I can’t (say) the same thing,” she argued.
Another Twitter user, @IrasLabs, asked whether those in authority were serious about tackling the crime monster facing Jamaica.
“Probably just a matter of time the rest of the parishes are listed too (by the US). Are we serious about our country, or is it that we prefer to allow crime to ferment?” the social media user questioned.
“Technology can drastically reduce crime on the rock,” the user proposed.