Safe Jamaica

Major United States airline Delta will today begin daily non-stop flights from New York to Kingston, a development that will further boost what Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett yesterday said is shaping up to be a record winter tourist season for Jamaica.

At the same time, Bartlett reiterated Jamaica’s commitment to ensuring a safe, secure and seamless experience to all visitors to the country.

“The confidence of any destination rests on ensuring the safety, security and seamlessness of both visitors and locals alike. We are making not just a statement but a commitment that where we find breaches or infractions in the sector we will, as a destination, respond and act strongly,” the tourism minister said.

Approximately 162 passengers will arrive at Norman Manley International Airport aboard Delta’s A320 aircraft this morning as the carrier adds to a range of new airline seats coming into Jamaica.

“For this winter alone we have 125,000 new seats, 89,000 out of the United States. So this is shaping up to be a record winter with more seats than we ever had before coming into the destination,” an upbeat Bartlett told the Observer yesterday.

His comments come against the background of recent US media reports alleging that Jamaican resorts have covered up claims of sexual assault on visitors.

Yesterday, Bartlett reminded that “a full-scale review is being done of all the protocols and ethical arrangements within the industry in keeping with the changes that are taking place in the demographics as well as the new markets that are emerging”.

Jamaica, he said, “must stand at the cusp of these changes and must be leaders in ensuring that tourism safety and security is enhanced at all times”.

He said that, as part of efforts to ramp up the destination assurance programme, the ministry, through the Tourism Product Development Company, has started an islandwide security audit of all hotels and attractions.

He said that highly regarded international tourism security expert Dr Peter Tarlow, as well as Global Rescue will join the audit and coalesce with Jamaica’s tourism destination assurance experts to craft a new architecture for tourism ethics and visitor safety.

The audit report, he said, should be ready by the first quarter of 2019.

Bartlett has also indicated that more stringent rules and legislation will be put in place to ensure the safety, security and seamlessness of the island’s tourism product.

“Breaches of security of any kind are aberrations that the destination will not tolerate and will treat with accordingly,” Bartlett said.

In September, two guests at the Riu hotel in Montego Bay reported that they were sexually assaulted by an employee.

Just this week, an American female visitor made a similar allegation against an employee at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, saying that the incident occurred in 2017 and accusing the resort chain of a cover-up.

Sandals, though, has denied trying to cover up the allegation.

“Recent allegations of cover-ups by our organisation are false and are gross misrepresentations of not only the facts but who we are and what we stand for as a leader in the industry,” Sandals said in a statement on Monday this week.

Yesterday, Bartlett emphasised that it was his duty as tourism minister to investigate all allegations or complaints of misconduct and to take whatever actions were found to be necessary.

He reiterated that Jamaica has been a safe destination and ranks among the safest destinations in the world.

“The level of repeat business we get is phenomenal, and Sandals has the highest record of repeat business in the Caribbean,” Bartlett pointed out.

“The consumer strength that Sandals has is phenomenal. We just had one case where somebody was making their 400th visit to Sandals. In fact, Sandals has hundreds of guests who have racked up over 500 paid nights at their resorts, and there are families who have come back yearly for 25 years and more. So the record that we have is very strong,” he said.

“We know that Sandals continues to work on improving its response to challenges, because we live in a changing world, but Sandals is always on the cutting-edge of change and creating new experiences. So, together, Sandals and Jamaica are moving to correct any flaws that may be detected and we are dealing with every complaint and allegation levelled at us because we want to always ensure that our visitors have a safe, secure and seamless experience,” Bartlett told the Observer.

On December 1, Jamaica and Jamaican companies emerged the big winners at the World Travel Awards in Lisbon, Portugal, taking eight of the coveted awards.

Jamaica received the World’s Leading Beach Destination and World’s Leading Cruise Destination awards for 2018. The World’s Leading Luxury Hotel Villa, 2018 went to Fleming Villa at Golden Eye; World’s Leading Villa Resort 2018 was Round Hill Hotel & Villas; World’s Leading All-inclusive Company 2018, Sandals Resorts International; World’s Leading Family Resort Brand 2018, Beaches Resorts; World’s Leading Caribbean Attraction Company 2018, Island Routes Caribbean Adventures; and World’s Leading Adventure Tour Operator 2018, Chukka Caribbean Adventures.