TORONTO — Should Jamaica-bound clients cancel their trips in the wake of the State of Public Emergency for St. James Parish and the travel advisory from the Canadian government? “Absolutely not,” says Philip Rose, Regional Director, Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board.
The JTB has seen an uptick in calls after media coverage of the travel advisory, updated Jan. 19 at travel.gc.ca/destinations/jamaica, under the ‘Safety & Security’ link.
The alert advises Canadian travellers heading to a resort in the affected area to stay on-property. Visitors looking to travel off-property are advised to use transportation arranged or provided by the resort. The alert also advises travellers to use organized tour operators for excursions and travel to and from the airport.
The Canadian government revised its travel advice for Jamaica in the wake of the State of Public Emergency declared Jan. 18 by Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness for St. James Parish, which includes Montego Bay, in response to escalating crime and violence in the area.
Soon after the government revised its advisory, Sunwing sent out this update: “Following the recent travel advisory issued by the Canadian Government regarding travel in the Parish of St James, which includes the resort destination of Montego Bay, we would like to reassure passengers that all of our flights, cruise and vacation packages are operating as scheduled.”
Sunwing adds: “We are in close contact with our destination team, who have advised us that while tourists are being encouraged to exercise a degree of caution, all tours and excursions are operating normally and there are no restrictions on their movements. Over 95% of our customers choose all-inclusive resorts when they vacation in Jamaica, however we are extending flexible re-accommodation options to any customers booked in a self-catering hotel in St. James Parish.
“Please note that the only resort area this advisory applies to is Montego Bay and does not affect our other resort destinations including Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay, Negril and Falmouth in the Parish of Trelawny.
“Jamaica is consistently one of our most popular destinations and we send approximately 5,000 visitors through Montego Bay airport each week without related incident. Customer safety and security is our primary concern and we will continue to seek the advice of the Canadian government, local government, and our local representatives on this matter and adjust our policies if required.”
Meanwhile Air Canada has extended its flexible rebooking policy to include travel to, from or via Sangster International Airport (MBJ), between Jan. 19 and Jan. 31, 2018, for passengers who purchased an Air Canada ticket no later than Jan. 19, 2018. Passengers scheduled to travel on the above dates can contact Air Canada Reservations (1-888-247-2262) to change their flight, free of charge, to another date between now and Feb. 14, 2018, subject to availability in the cabin where the fare was originally purchased (or any fare difference will apply).
Air Canada passengers are also advised that they may also choose to travel to an alternate destination. Any change fees will be waived, provided they are travelling between now and Feb. 14, 2018, however any fare difference will apply.
Rose says the State of Public Emergency is a proactive move “to ensure that the Jamaica of tomorrow is even better than today.”
Rose adds: “The State of Emergency is a law enforcement initiative. The only people who should be concerned are the unsavoury characters the program is designed to get rid of. The unsavoury characters are not running amok. But we don’t want to sit idly by.”
Rose said he recognizes that a declaration of a State of Emergency “tends to invoke certain images”.
But the Jamaican government’s move boils down to the fact that members of Jamaica’s military are now out in greater number to help the island’s police force in the wake of an uptick in crime in the area, he adds.
While a State of Emergency does give a government more control, a major factor with a State of Emergency declaration is loosening the purse strings to free up more government money to add resources to help deal with the situation, and that could apply to anything from crime in some countries, to political unrest in others, to devastation from natural disasters.
Visitors to Jamaica “should exercise the same caution as they would in any country, at any time,” said Rose.
“We are not experiencing what people would think of when they picture a ‘State of Emergency’,” he said.
Rose added: “We expect the State of Emergency to be effective and we don’t anticipate any lingering impact. Jamaica is having a very, very good winter.”