Predatory tourism? Visitor details a “horrible” vacation in Jamaica

negrilHigh crime. Outrageous prices. Fees everywhere.

Jonathan Shelton’s vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, had it all. And he was so upset by it that he fired up his Blackberry at the airport and sent me a missive.

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“I was awed by the locals trying to take advantage of tourists at every turn,” he told me. “The whole economy is designed to rake tourists over the leaves.”

Is his experience just another example of predatory tourism, where hotels, tour operators and merchants prey on their own guests? Or was Shelton just unlucky?

Here’s what he wrote:

Obviously tourism is a major income for the country, but it would seem that its better to leave people with a good feeling in their mouths instead of feeling, like we do, that we’ll never return.

The taxi charged $20 each way to our hotel. Candy bars at the resort were $2 and a few ounces of ice cream were $4. Internet was $9 per half hour. And the taxis and tour people constantly tried to take advantage of the fact that we were Americans.

They charged us an excess poundage baggage fee on our flight to Miami and then another fee for our flights to Los Angeles. When we inquired about changing the tickets to go straight through, the gate agent said it’s $150 a person change fee, plus the cost of the tickets.

That seem very excessive. The word “gouge” comes to mind. I had heard these stories of crime violence and bad customer service in Jamaica. Sadly, they’re all true. And guess what? I’m African American.

Horrible experience. Definitely won’t be back.

When I first read this, I thought Shelton just had a bad trip.

The fees, while high, are not that unusual for resort hotels. Same thing for the luggage surcharges — you’d experience that anywhere in the States. (And yes, the word “gouge” comes to mind.)

But does Shelton have a point about the crime and the predatory nature of the merchants in Jamaica?

A popular blog post on the subject seems to suggest he’s on to something:

Jamaica has many people running around with guns who have no problem using them. The murder rate in Jamaica is currently jockeying for top position with Colombia and South Africa, with Jamaica pulling ahead. In past years, the gunfire primarily occurred in Kingston and Spanish Town, but it’s now spreading out. St James (Montego Bay parish) has seen increasing levels of violent crime (murder), as well as all other parishes.

Our own State Department is only slightly more diplomatic about it:

Crime, including violent crime, is a serious problem in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston. While the vast majority of crimes occur in impoverished areas, the violence is not confined. The primary criminal concern for tourists is becoming a victim of theft. In several cases, armed robberies of Americans have turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables. Crime is exacerbated by the fact that police are understaffed and ineffective.

Additionally, there have been frequent allegations of police corruption. Tourists should take their own precautions and always pay extra attention to their surroundings when traveling, exercise care when walking outside after dark, and should always avoid areas known for high crime rates.

I’ve been to Jamaica a time or two, and also had a few moments where I felt unsafe. I would probably think twice before taking my family there on vacation.

I contacted the Jamaica Tourist Board to find out if Shelton’s experience was just a fluke.

It didn’t respond.

(Photo: roinks/Flickr Creative Commons)

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