For the first time since Jamaican authorities declared a state of emergency in Kingston after gang members attacked police stations and blockaded a large portion of the city, Travel Agent spoke to the Jamaica Tourist Board's (JTB) Chairman John Lynch.
“The initial reaction when you see something like this is to roll up your sleeves and get to work,” Lynch said. “We met over the weekend and we have developed a plan of action and requested some additional funds.”
Those funds, which Lynch says are in the $15-$20 million range, will primarily focus on advertising as well as efforts to bring roughly 3,000 travel agents to Jamaica in the fall since “seeing is believeing.”
“Basically, we have been supported all of these years by your readers, the travel agents,” Lynch added. “What we have been doing all along is working closely with agents. We need their support, we need them to keep their bookings.”
Of the roughly 30,000 hotel rooms in Jamaica, Lynch says only a “very minimal” amount has reported cancellations.
In fact, Travel Agent spoke to Sallie Rawlings, senior director of corporate communications for American Express Vacations & Travel Impressions, who confirmed Lynch’s comments. “Jamaica is one of our leading destinations and we've experienced a minimal number of cancellations— approximately 20 bookings out of hundreds,” she said. “Any changes we've had are not to other destinations— they've been re-bookings to Jamaica at a later date.”
Lynch says the JTB has been updating agents, operators and wholesalers on a daily basis through bulletins. And operators seem to be doing the same with their clients.
“Most of the questions we received are related to geography— proximity of Kingston to the major tourist areas of the island, as agents tried to gauge the effect this might have on Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril,” Rawlings said. “We pro-actively communicated early on with our customers through our web site, describing the localization of the problems in the West Kingston area and also providing information on the distances from these tourist areas to Kingston."
After months of wrangling, Prime Minister Golding earlier this month said he would let the courts handle the matter, setting off the recent violent police clashes with alleged drug lord Christopher Coke's gang members and their supporters in the Jamaican capital. Police in Jamaica have more than 500 people in custody, the government said Wednesday.
“I think in the end this will be positive for Jamaica,” Lynch says. “We had some of the lowest incidence of [violence of] any tourist destination, so now we are just polishing the image even more.”