Jamaican hotels are adding security to reassure tourists as clashes in the capital Kingston cause visitors to cancel trips, said Wayne Cummings, the head of Jamaica’s Hotel and Tourism Association.
There have been 300 hotel room cancellations on the Caribbean island since Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency May 23 to contain gang violence related to the government’s efforts to extradite an accused drug lord to the U.S., Cummings said today. At least 44 people have been killed in street battles between police and supporters of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the target of a four-day manhunt.
The violence has been concentrated in the capital, with no reports of unrest near the golf courses, beaches and resorts that most tourists visit on Jamaica’s north coast. The country has 30,000 hotel rooms, and tourism accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product and 50 percent of foreign exchange earnings, according to the Jamaican Tourist Board.
“We are taking quite a brand beating,” Cummings said in a phone interview from Kingston. “But we must have resolve to preserve our country.”
Jamaica’s dollar fell 0.4 percent to 88.975 per U.S. dollar today at 3:20 p.m. New York time. The extra yield investors demand to own Jamaican government bonds instead of U.S. Treasuries fell seven basis points to 5.31 percentage points, after reaching the highest level since Feb. 16 yesterday, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Jamaica will launch a “strong” marketing campaign to bolster its image after tourism visits dropped 2 percent in May from a year earlier amid the clashes, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said today in a telephone interview.
Visits rose 6.5 percent in the first three months of the year to 586,000, Bartlett said. Tourism revenue totaled $2 billion last year.
“We’re going to have to work very hard now to make sure we minimize the fallout and to keep the growth,” Bartlett said.
Vivian Deuschl, a spokeswoman for Marriott International Inc.’s Ritz-Carlton unit, said some guests at the company’s 427- room hotel in Montego Bay canceled reservations because of the violence. The warm summer months are the off-season in Jamaica, so the impact on the hotel won’t be significant, she said.
“We are trying to relocate guests to other resorts in the Caribbean or Florida, and taking care of the guests who are in the resort,” she said. Montego Bay is 175 kilometers (108 miles) northwest of Kingston.
The seven Jamaica hotels owned by Sandals Resorts International, the largest operator of all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean, are unaffected by the Kingston violence, spokeswoman Rachel McLarty said.
Golding told lawmakers in Parliament yesterday that he regretted the loss of life. He vowed to quell the violence by going after the “criminal gunmen” causing unrest. Two police and one member of Jamaica’s armed forces have died in the clashes, he said.
Public defender Earl Witter, head of the parliamentary ombudsman office probing civilian deaths from the fighting, said today at least 44 people have been killed. The death toll may rise as investigators probe reports of uncollected bodies, Witter said in a phone interview today. Authorities have detained 500 people in connection with the clashes, he said.
Coke is accused by the U.S. of leading an international criminal group known as the “Shower Posse,” with members in Jamaica and the U.S. He is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms, according to the office of the New York Attorney General. His lawyers have denied any wrongdoing by Coke.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela told reporters in Washington that Jamaica is taking the right steps to extradite Coke and is “encouraged” by progress to date.
The U.S. State Department on May 21 warned travelers that civil unrest in Kingston could block access to the international airport. Air Jamaica Ltd., the country’s largest carrier, closed an office in Kingston and canceled at least one flight today between the U.S. and Kingston.
Mark Williams, a spokesman for Kingston’s Norman Manley airport, said the airport is fully operational. Police have beefed up patrols along the roads from the airport into Kingston to protect travelers, he said.
The International Monetary Fund in February approved a 27- month, $1.27 billion stand-by credit agreement to help the Caribbean country of 2.8 million people recover from the global financial crisis, which depressed prices for bauxite and aluminum exports. It also reduced inflows from tourism and remittances sent by Jamaicans living abroad.
An IMF mission to Jamaica on May 18 recommended the board disburse $93.5 million after the government met its fiscal targets by controlling spending and improving tax collection. Jamaica’s debt is equal to about 130 percent of gross domestic product, according to the IMF.
The IMF expects Jamaica’s economy to shrink 0.3 percent this year, after contracting 2.8 percent last year, according to a May report.