Crime the enemy of tourism
Sadly, most Jamaicans have never been able to properly explore their own space.
Many, perhaps most, have never even heard of the Bull Head Mountain in Clarendon, central Jamaica, where residents host a festival every Ash Wednesday.
Apart from being at the geographic centre of Jamaica and boasting the highest peak in Clarendon, the Bull Head Mountain is a precious watershed — source to the Rio Minho which provides fresh water for much of Clarendon.
If Mayor of May Pen and Chairman of the Clarendon Municipal Council Mr Winston Maragh has his way, the Bull Head Mountain will also become part of a community "tourism package" for Clarendon, and presumably the wider south coast.
Attractive to hikers and sightseers, the Bull Head Mountain would fit into a package including Milk River and Alligator Hole in southern Clarendon, as visualised by Mr Maragh.
Such plans for the south coast are not new. Local leaders including Mr Tony Freckleton, head of the South Coast Resort Board, have long pushed for more Government support to develop community and heritage tourism projects along the length of Jamaica’s south coast.
As is well known, the exotic north and west coasts are the mainstay of tourism — a cornerstone of the national economy, grossing well in excess of US$2 billion annually and employing thousands of people directly and indirectly.
Personalities such as Mr Freckleton and successive tourism ministers have argued for the south coast to share more of the tourism pie by developing its own brand of community, heritage and sightseeing relationships with visitors.
Though still in their infancy, such projects have reaped rewards largely through the initiative of government agencies — not least the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) — private entrepreneurs and community groups.
Entrepreneurs in Black River have demonstrated the value of sightseeing boat tours through the wetlands fed by the Black River. The Appleton Rum Tour and YS Falls in northern St Elizabeth are highly successful ventures. In central Manchester, a museum project at the birthplace of National Hero, Rt Excellent Norman Manley, which attracts student visitors, bears testimony that tourists need not be from overseas.
In Alligator Pond — where beach erosion is a serious worry — entrepreneurs have built their own culinary niche in the tourism market. Also in Manchester, Countrystyle Community Tourism Network has established a reputation for customised tour and vacation packages.
In Treasure Beach, south St Elizabeth, people supporting each other and very protective of their visitors have built an enviable product.
Even with all of that, much needs to be done to make viable such priceless attractions as Lovers’ Leap at Yardley Chase in south St Elizabeth.
Of course, south coast communities, intent on profiting from tourism can’t just sit back and wait. Like the people of Treasure Beach, they have to act to make it happen.
Crucially, there must be a vision and the will to ensure visitors feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, there are far too many places where that is not the case. As Mr Maragh and fellow leaders in Clarendon look towards tourism as a sustainable part of the economic solution, they must recognise that crime in that south-central parish has to be brought under control.