Know Jamaica, Yes Jamaica - US Travel Advisory and the Facts
US TRAVEL ADVISORY - JAMAICA
On January 23rd, the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the US State Department issued an updated Level 3 designation (the “Travel Advisory”) recommending US citizens to “Reconsider Travel” to Jamaica. This update contained unusually negative language. Over the past week, there has been a sustained media campaign across the United States and other international media to carry this Advisory which is also unprecedented, and the resulting damage is far-reaching - our stakeholders are already receiving major cancellations and constant queries.
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. 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. This perception of increased crime in Jamaica is not true.
The Travel Advisory has the potential to do significant harm to Jamaica’s tourist industry, one of the largest and most important industries in the island. Tourism contributes ~30% of GDP and ~50% of foreign exchange earnings (>US$4.0 billion), and employs >20% of the workforce (>350,000). The Government of Jamaica disagrees strongly with the Travel Advisory which distorts the facts in Jamaica and has today formally advised the US Government of its position. 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.
The Travel Advisory’s description of crime and health care in Jamaica is incorrect. Here are the facts: 1). Serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare in Jamaica – in fact the data shows that American tourists are safer in Jamaica than in many cities in the USA - there were over 3 million US visitors to Jamaica in 2023 of which there were 5 homicides, regrettably all of whom were Jamaican-Americans who were not in resort areas and of which 2 were gang related, 2 robberies and 1 interpersonal conflict. There is also no targeting of gay tourists in Jamaica. (2). Combating crime is GOJ most pressing priority and in 2023, Jamaica recorded its lowest level of crime in more than 22 years. The GOJ views crime against its own citizens as unacceptable and continues to take all efforts to address it however it is to be noted 80% of Jamaica’s serious crime is related to guns and drugs trafficked illegally between the US and Latin America (and over 90% of illegal guns in Jamaica is from the US). (3) Americans visiting Jamaica do not face many of the same threats of safety and harm found in many other countries listed at Level 2 and 3 (e.g., terrorism, armed conflict, political instability, bombings, kidnappings, mass shootings, carjackings etc.), (4) Similar to many developing countries, Jamaica’s health system is not fully resourced but operates at international benchmarks and has been recognized internationally for its competent health care providers. Many persons from other islands who suffer from critical and specialized issues are regularly flown to Jamaica for hospitalization. Doctors and nurses trained in Jamaica are also regularly recruited by American hospitals and health systems.
DETAILS OF RELEVANT FACTS
· Crime against US Visitors to Jamaica is Extremely Rare. Jamaica receives ~4 million visitors annually, of which ~75% (~3 million) come from the US. In 2023, of the ~3 million US tourists who visited Jamaica, there were 52 crimes reported, an extremely low rate of 0.01%. The overwhelming majority of visitors visit and leave Jamaica without incident of any kind, in fact Jamaica has over 42% repeat guests which is the most objective test of a positive experience.
· Extremely Few US Citizens are Affected by Serious Crime in Jamaica. Of the 52 criminal incidents in 2023, the vast majority involved Jamaican-Americans who were involved in illegal activity. While all loss of life is regrettable, in the context of the proportionality of the Travel Advisory, it is to be noted that of the ~3 million US visitors to Jamaica in 2023, there were 5 homicides, 2 gang related, 2 robberies and 1 interpersonal - regrettably all of whom were Jamaican-Americans who were not in resort areas. The data also show that the sex crimes involving tourists noted in the Travel Advisory were mainly perpetrated by other Americans and foreign nationals on vacation, not local Jamaicans.
· Serious Crime in Jamaica is Down. In 2023, Jamaica recorded its lowest level of serious crime in more than 22 years. Having sustained reductions in 2022, further reductions were achieved in 2023, such that serious crime was down year on year by ~11%. That is, murders were down ~8%, shootings were down ~6% and rape, robbery, and break-ins were down between 12% and 17%.
Millions of Visitors and Other Reputable Entities Have Recognized that Jamaica is a Safe Destination. In addition to the millions of visitors who have chosen to visit Jamaica every year for decades, various other international entities have recognized that Jamaica is a safe destination. For example, the 2023 Global Law and Order Report issued by the internationally recognized media firm Gallup Inc., which ranks countries on three dimensions (i.e., confidence in the local police force, feelings of personal safety, and incidences of theft, assault and mugging) ranked Jamaica among the safest countries in the world, and one of the safest in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Similarly, Berkshire-Hathaway Travel Protection – a company owned by legendary investor Warren Buffett – compiles an annual “Safest Places” rating based on score that comprises extensive surveys of travelers who have actually visited each country and other indices and information such as the Global Peace Index and has included Jamaica in its Safest Places ratings every year since inception.
· Most Crime in Jamaica does not Affect Tourists. While the GOJ views crime among its own citizens as unacceptable and continues to take efforts to address it, it is noted that 80% of Jamaica’s serious crime is related to guns and drugs trafficked illegally between the US and Latin America (and over 90% of illegal guns in Jamaica come from the US). Moreover, the vast majority of crimes in Jamaica occur in the inner cities (outside tourist areas) related to drugs, guns, scamming, or result from personal domestic disputes (and thus does not affect tourists).
· Jamaica is safer for Americans than most major cities in the US. There is no major city in the US with a population of over 3 million which does not suffer from random incidences of murder and serious crimes, unlike the numbers that affect US visitors to Jamaica. Today, Feb. 5th 2024, at the time of the preparation of this Fact Sheet, the headlines in Washington DC from various commentators are decrying the murder of Mike Gill, the former Chief Operating Officer of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) following a carjacking and murder spree in Washington DC on January 29, 2024, describing the spate of carjacking murders as “horrific” and that “Washington DC has become a lawless hellhole and this is the tragic result.” Across the country, headlines are saying that random mass shootings reflect that American cities are becoming lawless.
· Risks of Harm to US Tourists in Jamaica is Lower than in Several Level 2 Jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions globally with US State Department Level 2 designations (above Jamaica’s Level 3) include Quintana Roo State in Mexico (where Cancun is located), Brazil, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, Angola, Laos, Djibouti, Eritrea, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, and Cuba. In several of these destinations, tourists have been brazenly murdered or found dead outside hotels and tourist areas in cartel related shootings. In others, tourists have found themselves caught up in major international or domestic disputes, armed conflicts, or terroristic attacks which have spilled over into tourist areas. US visitors to Jamaica are not subject to similar kinds of risks and harm.
· Jamaica does not Experience other Crimes Found in many Level 3 Jurisdictions. Other countries with Level 3 designations include Burundi, Chad (the site of a recent coup) Colombia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Saudi Arabia. Unlike many of the other 23 nations with a Level 3 designation by the US State Department, Jamaica is a democratic nation that is not involved in any armed conflicts with its neighbours and does not suffer from civil unrest. Moreover, Jamaica has not experienced any military coups, terrorist attacks, international piracy, bombings, random mass shootings, or mass kidnappings. Not even the US with its frequent random mass shootings can make this claim.
· Jamaica’s Healthcare System Adequately Services the Needs of Tourists. Similar to many developing countries in the Level 2 category, Jamaica’s health system is not fully resourced. However, Jamaica has been recognized internationally for its competent health care providers. Many persons outside Jamaica who suffer from critical and specialized issues are regularly flown to Jamaica from other neighbouring islands for hospitalization. Doctors and nurses trained in Jamaica are also regularly recruited by American hospitals and health systems. Importantly, the Jamaica Tourist Board has a long-established Visitor Relations Team that interacts regularly with the US Embassy in Kingston to ensure that healthcare matters involving US visitors are addressed in the most timely and effective methods possible.
· The Jamaican Government has also Established a Working Group which Has Been Systematically Addressing the Issues Raised in the Travel Advisory. In response to similar issues raised by the US State Department in previous travel advisories, the Jamaican Ministry of Tourism established a formal Working Group including the Jamaican Constabulary Force (the Police), the Ministry of Health, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, and other key tourism industry stakeholders to address these issues and to liaise with the US Embassy in this regard. Efforts have been made by the Police to increase its presence and response times in tourist areas, to address circumstances in which US visitors need major medical assistance, and to ensure that incidences of harassment and petty crime against visitors are prevented or, if they occur, are investigated, and resolved as quickly and as effectively as possible. Given all of its collaborative efforts, this recent Travel Advisory has come as a shock to the Working Group.
· Jamaica has been Praised Internationally for its Far-Reaching Efforts in Improving and Growing the Economy. In a recent article, the Financial Times newspaper described Jamaica as having achieved “one of the most remarkable and radical but under-appreciated turnaround stories in economic history.” A recent Article IV review by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded that “Jamaica has successfully reduced public debt, anchored inflation, strengthened its external position, and built a strong track record of investing in institutions, and prioritizing macroeconomic stability.” The IMF continued that “the economy continued to recover in 2023. After two years of rapid post-pandemic recovery, GDP is projected at 1.8% in FY2023/24, with tourism well above pre-pandemic levels and unemployment falling to a record-low of 4.5% by mid-2023” and that “projected strong tourism inflows are expected to result in a current account surplus for FY2023/24 supporting a sound international reserves position. The financial system is well capitalized and liquid, and the public debt continues to fall.” This economic growth and stability have allowed Jamaica this year to attract historic and unprecedented levels of tourism investments valued at over US$5 billion, one-third of the country’s current GDP, which will help transform Jamaica’s economy over the next 5 - 10 years. The upcoming release of the long-awaited Bob Marley biopic is garnering worldwide attention and generating significant increased interest and demand for visitors to the island, another boon for the tourist industry. All this momentum is now at risk because of the Travel Advisory and sustained adverse media coverage.
· The recent Level 3 US Travel Advisory and its Extremely Damaging Consequences is not Consistent with the Close, Amicable and Respectful Relationship between the US and Jamaica:
US Vice-President Hon. Kamala Harris stated in her recent meeting with Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness: “President Joe Biden and I are very honored and very excited about your presence here today to reaffirm the strength of the relationship between the United States and Jamaica . . . As I told the Prime Minister privately and I will say it again publicly, this is a very important relationship to the United States. We are acutely aware of the interconnection and interdependence between the United States and Jamaica.”
Secretary of State Hon. Anthony Blinken in a separate meeting with Prime Minister Holness stated: “I really want to applaud Mr. Prime Minister, your very strong economic leadership in Jamaica, and our partnership in the Caribbean, which I think has never been better, and that’s in large part due to your engagement and your leadership.”
As recently as December 5th, 2023, US National Security Advisor, the Hon. Jake Sullivan in a meeting at the White House with Prime Minister Holness, thanked Prime Minister Holness for his steadfast support for a Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti and Jamaica’s leadership in the region, and also reaffirmed the strong bilateral cooperation between the US and Jamaica in promoting inclusive economic growth and climate resilient infrastructure, combating transnational criminal organization and the trafficking of illicit drugs and firearms, and promoting regional security under Plan Secure Jamaica.
The US State Department itself on its website describing US-Jamaica relationships writes: “The United States and Jamaica maintain strong and productive relations, based on trust and mutual interest. This close friendship is built on a foundation of people-to-people ties and a vibrant Jamaican American community.”
The recent Level 3 US Travel Advisory about Jamaica and the spate of negative publicity it generated in its wake is damaging Jamaica’s important tourist industry and threatens to do even more harm in the future. The Travel Advisory’s description of crime and health care in Jamaica flies in the face of the facts that (1) The turnaround of Jamaica’s economy is being internationally acclaimed, and its continued growth is needed to provide resources to invest in the infrastructure to prevent an increase in crime and violence. (2) serious crimes in Jamaica have fallen in the past year, (3) serious crimes against tourists are extremely rare in Jamaica, (4) Jamaica is safer for US visitors than in major cities in the US, (5) US visitors to Jamaica do not face many of the same threats of safety and harm found in many other Level 2 and Level 3 countries (e.g., terrorism, armed conflict, political instability, bombings, kidnappings, etc.), (6) Jamaica has made significant efforts to address both the healthcare needs of visitors who experience medical emergencies with healthcare workers that are recognized internationally for their competence and (7)there is low safety threats that could be posed in tourist areas through heightened police presence and responsiveness.
Considering these facts, the Travel Advisory needs to be urgently corrected and specifically substantial removal of "Do Not Travel" designation across so many areas of the island.
Ministry of Tourism / Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade
February 5th, 2024.