After a record-breaking tourism year in 2023, Jamaica is now seeing an unprecedented level of visitor cancellations as a result of a recent travel advisory issued by the United States, urging its citizens to reconsider travel to the island.
The U.S. State Department issued the Level 3 advisory (the second-highest category) for Jamaica on January 23, saying that violent crimes on the island are common and that sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts.
The warning also says that local police often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents and that emergency services and hospital care vary throughout the island and cannot always provide high-level or specialized care.
According to Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States, Audrey Marks, there has been a record number of cancellations since the advisory was published.
“Since the issuance of the travel advisory and its coverage by national and international media outlets, there is an impression that there is an outbreak of violence in Jamaica,” she said in a statement.
“As a result, there has been a spike in visitor cancellations that has never been experienced before, particularly group bookings such as business, government, students, and churches conferences where travel insurance has either increased or not been made available because of the issuance of this travel advisory.”
Ambassador Marks said that the advisory “distorts the reality” of what Jamaica is really like and has urged the United States government to reconsider.
She pointed out that serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare in Jamaica. In fact, the data, she said, shows that American tourists are safer in Jamaica than in many cities in the United States.
She also noted that Jamaica has not experienced military coups, terrorist attacks, international piracy, bombings, or random mass shootings, like many other countries that have Level 2 or Level 1 advisories in place.
“The potential negative impact of the travel advisory on Jamaica’s economy is extensive and requires all stakeholders to participate in the process of persuading the US State Department to revise ‘this punitive action,’” she said.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has also weighed in on the advisory, questioning the content and timing.
In an interview with Travel Weekly alongside Sandals Resorts CEO Adam Stewart, the Prime Minister pushed back at the advisory. “This came out of left field,” Holness said. “It runs counter to the story of Jamaica in the last five years. It is not supported by the trend in statistics.”
Just two weeks before the advisory was released, the Financial Times gave a glowing report about the island, calling it “arguably one of the most remarkable and radical but underappreciated turnaround stories in economic history,” largely due to its tourism sector.
In 2023, the island saw approximately 4.1 million visitor arrivals, a 16 percent increase over the previous year’s numbers and a 7.5 percent increase over 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers. Of this total, more than half of the island’s visitors are from the U.S. alone at approximately 3 million.
The crime statistics also paint a glowing picture: Holness said serious crime was down by 11% last year, murders down by 8%, rapes down 15%. Across the board, he said, crime was at a 22-year low.
“The challenge we face is that everything that is said in the travel advisory runs counter to Jamaica’s story of recovery, to Jamaica’s story of coming to grips with the challenges of being a developing country.”
The prime minister said the government has invested heavily in national security, tourism, and its healthcare sector to ensure visitors are safe.
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