Tourism resilience in the age of ZOSO and SOE


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

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There is precedence to leaders of countries making security decisions on the basis of faulty intelligence, usually with costly consequences. The most disastrous in recent times was the decision by President George W Bush to invade Iraq on the presumption that Sadam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Jamaica has on a much smaller scale experienced similar errors in decision-making by our political leaders in their attempt to defeat the crime monster. When the first ZOSO (zone of special operations) was established in Mt Salem, St James, earlier this year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness justified the decision by citing crime statistics provided by the security forces. These turned out to be wrong. With the imposition of the latest SOE (state of emergency) in communities falling within the St Andrew Southern and Kingston Western constituencies, the prime minister again made an egregious error — painting Trench Town as an area of heightened criminal activity by citing statistics at odds with reality in his statement to Parliament on October 2, 2018.

Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern Senator Mark Golding, in an October 15, 2018 open letter to the prime minister, which was published in the press, took Holness to task for unnecessarily tarnishing the image of a community striving against the odds to rebrand itself as a major tourism destination. Other than to support Golding's rebuttal of the prime minister's mischaracterisation of the iconic birthplace of reggae, the weight of this column is on bringing to public attention a real and present danger to tourism, particularly community tourism, which should be treated as a national priority.

Let's start with an indisputable fact: Crime and tourism do not mix. Whether in Montego Bay or Trench Town, imposing an SOE or ZOSO says to the market crime has reached a level that is intolerable. With the plan to introduce up to 20 more ZOSOs, a large number of communities will be placed at risk of not being able to earn from Jamaica's largest economic sector — tourism.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference held at the Montego Bay Conference Centre last November, in response to the threat posed mainly by climate change and natural disasters to tourism-dependent economies, called for the establishment of a Global Centre for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management on The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. Quoting from the position paper by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, who is the key driver behind this historic development, “The ultimate purpose of the centre is to assist destination preparedness, management and recovery from disruptions and/or crisis that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods.”

Community tourism is especially vulnerable to a variety of disruptions, the most resistant of which is the perception and reality of crime and violence. The threat posed by crime and violence to communities like Trench Town, and Government's response to it, should be placed near the top of the agenda of issues to be addressed by the think tank within the proposed Global Centre for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management. ZOSOs and SOEs, although justifiable in the short term, cannot be allowed to become the new normal in tourism-dependent Jamaica. We need fresh thinking on how to solve this perennial problem of crime and violence juxtaposed against development of a world-class tourism product.

Former United States President Bill Clinton, in an address to regional tourism ministers gathered for a conference in Nassau, Bahamas, stressed the critical role tourism and travel play in the Caribbean — accounting for more than 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). He emphasised how impressed he was with the resilience and sense of community displayed among people of the Caribbean in overcoming disruptions to the tourism sector. Nowhere is this truer than Jamaica. Over the years tourism has demonstrated its resilience time and time again. It will overcome even the latest crisis of sexual assaults against US tourists being reported in the foreign media.

We should not sit on our laurels while counting our blessings. Jamaica only has so many miles of coastline with beaches on which to build all-inclusive and other mega hotels. Community tourism is the future growth area. The survival of community tourism is important for another reason. At the UNWTO Montego Bay conference, Secretary General Taleb Rifai caused controversy by pointing out that the traditional tourism business model, which is very selective in determining where tourists can go and spend their money, needs to give way to a model that spreads the tourism dollar to every nook and cranny of this beautiful island. How do we slay the proverbial dragon of crime and violence barring entry to the golden fleece of community tourism?

By expanding its focus beyond disruptions such as hurricanes, earthquakes and cybercrime to include crime and violence, the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta having agreed to serve as honorary co-chairmen, could be a useful vehicle to solve a puzzle that has for too long bedevilled us.

In the meantime, local media and our political leaders should realise that sensationalising crime, fearmongering and stereotyping communities are like friendly fire directed against your own side in the war against crime and violence. Instead of neutralising the enemy combatants, the communities are the ones that get hurt.

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