Why Ja-Style Tourism is Bad For Everyone
October 12, 2007
Letter to Gleaner, Feb. 28, 2007
Regarding the Feb. 25 story about Jamaica not being the favored destination for overprivileged college students from the US. In my view, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And using the recent policies regarding passports as a scapegoat makes the problem even more apparent.
Over the past 10 years, I have often travelled to Jamaica around the spring break period. The conversations in the airport lobbies, on the airplane returning to their homes, and in my college classrooms reveal some of the reasons why the mystique has evaporated. Jamaica simply is too expensive for what they get. Students say they want to party, but seriously, they don’t really expect to see a replication of Six Flags America-style amusement parks. They do want to experience what this country is really about. They want a peek beyond the mystique even though they’re probably high while doing so.
What they get glimpses of – the dirt, decline, corruption, mistreatment – tells them that they either should return as Peace Corps types, or not at all. Feeling bad about what is happening around you is not exactly the way to enjoy one’s vacation. As such, Cancun and South Florida is a better deal; at least they know what they are getting. This is what they tell their friends and family.
What’s missing from the development of tourism in Jamaica is a love of the place and the people who make this place what it is. The disdain with which Jamaican citizens are treated by policy makers is clearly evident to the naked, uncritical eye of spring breakers.
When the national government actively perpetuates structural violence against its citizens (poverty, poor quality of education, no protections for whatever employment does exist et al) and raids the national coffers with no explanation or plan for replacing the dwindling resources, the effects reverberate throughout the society. The tourist industry is not immune to these conditions, and the effects are often unintended.
What is needed? Radically new ideas about planning and management of the built environment, mass firing of the government folks who are currently running the country into the ground, and sustained efforts to nurture and sustain an educated (not just school-related, but civic-minded) and engaged public.
In truth, Jamaica need a break from tourism. We need to address the social infrastructure to make it possible for people to be less dependent on one industry for survival. We — from the swims lady in St. Elizabeth to the JUTA driver in Montego Bay – need to be able to say proudly and truthfully that residents of this country matter just as much, if not more than, the visitors. Only then can the indigenous sense of pride that is most often expressed through mob violence and desperate but ineffective demonstrations, develop into something that makes Jamaica worth going to, over and over again. And we would all — residents and visitors alike — be better off for it.