Jamaican tourism minister says media ‘sensationalised’ state of emergency

Jamaica’s tourism minister says the “bizarre” reporting of his country’s declaration of a state of emergency has had no effect on the island’s tourism industry.

Edmund Bartlett said that that only a “confined area” within the St James parish, which includes popular holiday destination Montego Bay, had been affected by the violence.

He said there had been no cancellations thus far, no change to cruise lines’ itineraries and that the UK media had “sensationalised” the news.

The Foreign Office has not warned against travel to Jamaica but has urged holidaymakers to stay inside their resorts and hotels as a precaution. Its advice also suggests travel to and from the airport, or for excursions, be undertaken with organised tour operators and that a “major military operation is underway”.

Mr Bartlett said: “The hotels and attractions are not located within the area. In fact, the area is concentrated within one of the 14 parishes in the area. I think it’s an over-reaction. It really has not affected in any serious way the tourism activities on the islands.

“Jamaica is a safe and secure destination for all visitors, we have an enviable record. The move that has been made by the government is to ensure that this safe and secure promise is maintained.

“I believe that if when these things are sensationalised into something more dramatic, then it causes concern beyond the norm and makes for quite a bit of agitation. I believe we have suffered from that.”

The minister agreed that the reporting of the state of emergency in some ways mirrored the reaction to the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the autumn, but did not criticise the UK Foreign Office for sending out its advisory.

“The level of advisory did not merit the kind of sensationalised outbursts that we saw. Level two is pretty much saying ‘go and enjoy yourself, but be careful’,” he said.

“I believe this [reaction] is a bit more bizarre [than the reporting of the hurricanes] in the sense that it’s a small area of the island. Even in the context of the parish it’s confined to hot spots. The corridors that the resort operators go through are safe and clear. A visitor moving through there would hardly know that military or police operations are happening unless they veer from the route.

“Just yesterday there was a group of 15-20 German cyclists all over Montego Bay and it was fine. The images of what’s happening differs from the narrative that has been put forward by the media, by and large.

“Safety and security is for everyone, including those living on the island as well as the tourists. Perhaps this has shown us how seriously people take safety, but it also shows safety is our main concern.”

Speaking directly to those who have booked their trips to Jamaica, and agents who have booked holidays for their customers, Mr Bartlett said: “People have paid for their vacations, and it must be terrible to read those reports, but there have been no cancellations to date, the beaches are full and the attractions are humming. I want to give them the comfort that the destination is open for business.”

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