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All-inclusive resorts: O how soon we forget

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Towards the end of the 1970s, crime, particularly murders, began to take a heavy toll on Jamaica which, before that, was known as a haven of friendly people, and even “paradise” to many visitors seeking to escape the icy chill of the north.

In 1980, Jamaica lost any of the innocence it still had when a reported 800 people were killed in the bitter election campaign that, in many ways, we are still paying for in the hard political divisions established from then.

Tourism, the number two foreign exchange earner, after bauxite, took a dreadful beating as Jamaica's image as a murderous nation announced itself on the world stage. Security concerns began to weigh heavily on the minds of vacationers and many thought it safe to bypass Jamaica for the time being.

Many investors in tourism threw in the towel and abandoned the island. To keep several of the hotels open, and save jobs, the Government of the 70s took shares. But that was not enough to stem the outward flow.

The Government of the 1980s, pursuing a policy of off-loading State-owned properties, almost gave away the hotels in a fire-side sale that at least kept some open. But it looked like the tourism legacy left by the American and European jet-setters, like Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming, was on its last leg.

SuperClubs had become aware of an exciting concept, the all-inclusive resort, the brainchild of Club Med's visionary founder, Gérard Blitz, and brought it to Jamaica. Guests could enjoy a complete vacation within the walls of the resorts and be safe from crime and the perpetual harassment by pimps, drug dealers and beggars.

The concept was revolutionised by Gordon “Butch” Stewart who brought the ultra-inclusive approach, now further upgraded to the luxury-included vacation at Sandals and Beaches resorts. It was the all-inclusive concept that saved Jamaican tourism and the Jamaican economy and which has continued to do so.

It is in that context that we understand the call by United Nations World Tourism Organisation's General Secretary Taleb Rifai for all-inclusive models to morph into “becoming more socially inclusive” in the future.

“We cannot continue to promote modern-day plantations in our own countries, called exclusive resorts. That is not the model we are looking for at all,” he told the recent Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Development in Montego Bay.

In effect, some resorts, like Sandals, are well ahead, having not only organised tours to get guests safely out into the communities, but which are partnering with attractions to upgrade their security and facilities so that tourists can enjoy them without the fear of criminal attacks and harassment.

We take Mr Rifai by his word that his comments were “never intended as an attack on all-inclusive hotel models”.

Memories can be short. All-inclusives came to Jamaica and the Caribbean at the right time. Led by Mr Stewart, we in this region have almost perfected it into an art form and it continues to evolve.