Travel agents say: MoBay is okay!
Although the state of public emergency in St. James Parish of Jamaica, which includes the popular resort destination of Montego Bay, has been extended until May 2, many top-selling Jamaican specialists across Canada are reporting that it’s very much business as usual.
“I had a group stay in Runaway Bay who came back less than two weeks ago, and they had a fantastic time and didn’t feel any kind of threat,” Sharon Boissonneault, a top-selling Jamaica vacation agent, of Maison de Voyages Montréal told Canadian Travel Press. “I also had some clients staying at the Secrets in MoBay the last week of January and everything went very smoothly, and they’re returning with a group in May. My colleague is there with a group right now staying at the Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach, and he informed me that everything is under control.”
Despite the additional security measures, which came into effect on Jan. 18 to curb an increase in violent crimes in the parish, arrivals to Jamaica rose 6.7 per cent for January compared to 2017, and between Jan. 22-25, reports indicate stopover arrivals at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay were up by 12.1 per cent over the same period in 2017.
“I want to remind everyone that Jamaica continues to enjoy the enviable statistic of being the second safest destination for tourists in the Caribbean,” says Philip Rose, regional director – Canada of the Jamaica Tourist Board, likening the security checkpoints in the region to that of a ride program. “We continue to be a very safe destination, and the current enhanced security measures will only serve to make us even more safe, even more secure and facilitate a seamless vacation experience for all our visitors.”
In a Feb. 7 message to travel partners, the JTB noted, “Jamaica remains safe for travellers. The extension does not impact the daily activities of residents and visitors.”
“I personally went to Montego Bay on Tuesday, and came back Thursday, (Feb. 6–8), and I saw absolutely nothing out of the norm,” Rose added. “I saw more visitors than I saw locals.”
For Boissonneault, she says, surprisingly, her sales for the Caribbean destination have actually increased since the public state of emergency was declared.
“I booked a wedding group last week for August in Rose Hall, and I just booked another leisure group today for August in Runaway Bay,” she says. “No one has
mentioned being concerned.”
Lois Barbour, a certified travel consultant with TPI in Newfoundland and another top-selling Canadian Jamaica travel specialist says she’s experienced very few cancellations in bookings for Jamaica.
“Clients who just returned rated their travel experience a 5 out of 5. I think that speaks volumes regarding their comfort level with everything during their vacation in Jamaica,” she says. “There are always a few cancellations for various reasons at final payment time, so having only two cite this advisory as their reason for canceling to date, it would seem that the public is not overly concerned or taking this out of context, at least among my clients.”
Although Anita Paton, a travel consultant and Jamaica specialist with Robert Q Travel in Woodstock, Ont., would never send a client anywhere they were afraid to go, she says she’s confident selling Jamaica, travelling to Jamaica and teaching clients about Jamaica.
“I have had groups, families, and clients who travel to the island regularly,” she says. “They felt safe and had an absolutely fantastic vacation. They took tours, they loved their resorts and the people. Yeah mon!”
Similarly, Jen Langlois of Suite Trip Travel – TPI in Thorold, Ont., who is also a top-selling Canadian Jamaica travel specialist, says she will continue sending her clients to the Caribbean island.
“Jamaica is one of my personal favourites, and a long-time favourite of all my clients,” she says. “I will not let the news and media scare me or my clients away unless there is a real emergency that will effect them. At this time, I will stand with JTB and continue advising it’s business as usual.”
Having had multiple clients return from Jamaica recently, Langlois says she’s heard lots of positive feedback.
“Some are repeat clients to the island and said they didn’t see any difference from the last time they went,” she says. “One client advised on the way to Negril they passed a checkpoint when they left St. James Parish so she assumed it was for this ‘issue,’ but that they were only stopping local cars, the bus was waived past. They saw it again returning to the airport, and were waived on.”
With clients going to Jamaica presently and in the near future, Tammy Biblow, the owner/operator of Vacations Yorktown in Yorkton, SK, is reminding her travellers to exercise extra caution and to sign up for excursions with Canadian tour operators.
“Jamaica is an amazing country with amazing people, however, what is going on right now is not new and is just now in the spotlight,” she says. “Any of my clients that have returned did not notice anything different from any other destination. We have to remember as Canadians, when you travel to another nation, you do not have the same freedoms and whimsy as home. Be smart about travelling.”
Certified Jamaica travel specialist Pauline Blacoe of Shinetravel.ca in Brantford, Ont., says she has no reservations in continuing to send her clients to the area.
“I just had a large group return,” she says. “They said they didn’t even notice any difference.”
Finally, international travel consultant Brian Bobroff of Flight Centre Independent in Toronto says he had a client visit Montego Bay the week after the advisory was first put in place.
“They did not notice anything unusual or feel any lack of security on their trip and had a fantastic time,” he says. “I have had several colleagues who have visited since as well who said everything is business as usual, and the biggest danger they faced was not enough sunblock or perhaps too much Red Stripe.”
Although it’s his duty to be clear about advisories so his clients can make their own decisions about travelling, Bobroff says most of his clients who head to Jamaica stay at resorts and embark on organized tours, so there is little cause for concern.
“I advise my clients who are concerned for safety in any destination to stick to organized excursions with reputable tour operators that can be provided in advance or at their chosen hotel. They know where to go and where to avoid,” he says. “I will personally be going to Jamaica in May, and I am counting down the days. As wise Robert Nesta Marley once sang, ‘Don’t worry about a thing, Every little thing is gonna be alright.’”
After closing out 2017 with over 405,000 Canadian visitors, which represented almost a 9% increase year over year, Rose is confident Jamaica, which was announced as the host destination for the next Caribbean Travel Marketplace, will continue to be a hot destination for Canadians.
“I think the CHTA selecting Jamaica to host the next Caribbean Marketplace is a huge show of confidence and a show of the popularity that the destination continues to enjoy,” he says.
Stay tuned to the next edition of Travel Courier, as we travelled down to Montego Bay to uncover some of the many activities and excursions to do in the destination.
Tips from the trade
What do you say to clients who are concerned about travelling to Montego Bay?
“I am just advising that it’s business as usual in Jamaica. I place my trust in both the Jamaica Tourist Board’s ongoing updates and what my clients have been advising me, and everyone is on the same page that the issues are not in anyway affecting tourism. Jamaica is still irie! The reality is there is gang violence and danger even here in Toronto or in any large US city, but people still travel there on a daily basis. It’s all about keeping your wits about you and not doing anything you wouldn’t do at home while travelling.”
— Jen Langlois, Suite Trip Travel – TPI
“Most times I let them know that the current military presence situation is a good thing for the country. Many other Caribbean destinations have had this presence for many years. I have also quoted Philip Rose quite a few times. There are so many articles out there now from the JTB.”
— Pauline Blacoe, Shine Travel
“I tell them not to worry. Most people book packages and stay in their all-inclusive resorts which are very safe. My clients still did excursions, and it was fine.”
— Sharon Boissonneault, Maison de Voyages
“I would always leave the decision to travel to the traveller’s own discretion and comfort level. However, I would point out that this safety precaution is the same as has been in place for a long time for places like St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, and France, and that this will serve to make Jamaica a safer destination. As the message from the tourist board is that it is business as usual in Jamaica, I would be remiss if I did not deliver that message.”
— Lois Barbour, TPI
“I am 100% confident selling Jamaica. I advise that Jamaica is a country full of people who are ready to welcome you with open arms. What is happening in Jamaica is a great thing. They value their tourism industry, and I believe they are doing whatever it takes to make sure their guests feel safe and welcome. Unfortunately, there is crime all over the world. If you look for it in the news, or local papers, you will find it everywhere.”
— Anita Paton, Robert Q Travel
“There is concern all over the world, it’s just not public or media based. I always say because you’re travelling, doesn’t mean you put your guard down. Also let them know it’s safe on the resorts, and the tour companies are there for their safety. The island wouldn’t put them in jeopardy, as they rely on tourism.”
— Charlene Smith, Travel VIP