Is Jamaica a safe place to visit? It’s the question I’m asked over and over. Sometimes, I reply flippantly that it’s probably safer for visitors than for residents. It’s true.
To protect the lucrative tourist market, the Jamaican government relies on the Tourism Courtesy Corps, uniformed guards, that is deployed in major tourist areas. These guards are like insulation: their presence tells locals to keep away and the visitor, that someone’s watching over them.
All-inclusive hotels provide their own layer of protection. Upon arrival, guests are bused directly to the hotels. Once on property, every conceivable amenity and experience you could desire is on offer. They’ll even bring in craft vendors (for a fee) on special days, and have “Jamaican Nights,” where traditional food and entertainment are provided. So unless you really want to, you don’t have to leave their premises.
The entrance to most hotels are manned by guards. As a resident, I can’t just casually turn up at one of these hotels, especially those in popular tourist towns like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, for dinner or drinks. In fact, I was turned back twice from Secrets Montego Bay when I tried to visit friends who were guests there. And when I attended a wedding at the Riu Hotel recently, I had to purchase a US$75 day pass just to be on the property.
It’s not just hotels that put a cordon around their visitors. Some cruise lines have shopping areas adjacent to port so if their passengers don’t want to, they don’t have to venture beyond the security gates.
They have reason to be cautious. Over the years, visitors have been targets of robberies, some have been killed. And lately, with the economy teetering, begging has become more than an aggravation.
But it’s the stranglehold of violent crime, one that successive governments seem powerless to break, that has prompted several countries to issue travel advisories cautioning their citizens to be on the alert in Jamaica. It’s also what worries Jamaicans at home and abroad.