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Peter von Maffei

Jamaica is an island paradise, located in the northern Caribbean, approximately 145 km south of Cuba and 160 km west of Haiti, with a population of about 2,553,600 million people in 1997 and a land area of 11,000 km/sq. The country has had a low and steady population growth rate of 1.0 percent in 1997. Tourism is Jamaica’s most important industry besides the mining of bauxite (accounts for more than half of exports). It is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, (generating approximately US$965 million annually) and is still one of its fastest growing industries. These profitable service industries depend on the island and its natural beauty–pure air, abundant sunshine, and clean sandy beaches. This industry is evidence to the close relationship between economic well being and the quality of the natural environment.

"You ain’t gonna miss your water,

until your well runs dry.

No matter how you treat him,

The man will never be satisfied." (Bob Marley, 1980)

Tourism is both Jamaica’s largest foreign exchange earner and one of its fastest growing industries. A recent environmental study commissioned by the Organization of American States (OAS) surveyed the natural resource base (which supports tourism) and concluded that this base is "heavily stressed" in and around the three main tourist centers (Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios). The problem is that these areas now support large populations of tourists with high-income lifestyles and these impacts harm both the environment and the people of Jamaica. It could also spoil Jamaica and lead to its own destruction of the land and its deeply engrained culture and roots.

Jamaica’s natural resources–tropical temperatures, unspoiled beaches, clear Caribbean waters, fresh flowing rivers, lush vegetation–are just a few of the island’s primary selling points for vacationing tourists. In a survey conducted by the OAS results indicate that the majority of visitor hours are spent in outdoor activities. These activities were listed in order of popularity from most to least: general sporting activities (running), snorkeling/scuba diving, beach/sunbathing/swimming, and dance clubs/bars. Activities such as cultural exhibitions, handicrafts (painting, making dolls and straw hats) and shopping are available. But are less popular.

The beaches in Jamaica are one of the most widely used natural resources. Public beaches, especially those that are well equipped and maintained have a steady number of users throughout the year and are heavily used on public holidays. Jamaica has about 28 significant offshore islands and cays, the majority of which are off the island’s south coast. The intensive development of the cays for recreational purposes have been curbed, due to the their soft and light environment. Only Lime Cay off the coast of Port Royal is used as a recreational site for sunbathing and picnics. Around the north coast and along sections of the south coast are long coral reef chains that provide habitat for numerous species of fish and other marine life. These excellent recreational areas are known for diving and glass-bottom boat viewing.

The principal resort areas are located in the island’s north coast where wind and wave action, which smash down on the offshore coral reefs, help to develop and sustain the impressive white sand beaches. The beaches along the south coast of the island tend not to be as attractive as along the north coast. The beaches along the south coast are built up more of river sand, are typically brown, and are less stable than those of the north coast. In addition to the beautiful beaches along the countries coastal areas, the scenic waterfalls and rivers have also been a major tourist attraction. Several of Jamaica’s swift-flowing rivers and scenic waterfalls that have been developed as recreational tourist attractions. One of the many developed waterfalls is the Dunn’s River Falls. A tourist’s dream place.

The Jamaican Tourism Industry is fueled by the Americanized room and board selections which include (a) the mega-complexes, (b) small scale hotels, villa complexes, and guest houses, and (c) the massive cruise-liners. In 1997, over 800,000 Americans traveled and stayed in one of these forms of lodging. The mega-complexes consist of upscale and midrange single properties and all-inclusive resorts like a Club Med Vacation. This category requires high levels of foreign operating inputs like personnel, and are disproportionately located in the three most attractive tourist cities, Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios. Their existence greatly depends on tourists and trade overseas through wholesale and retail outlets. The smaller scale hotels and guesthouses are very similar to the mega ones. The primary difference is that they require the services that their accommodations do not provide. For example, taxi’s, local food and drink, local shops, independent tour guides, etc. Lastly, are the cruise ships usually dock in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios. The tourists must spend money on anything they want to do outside the ship.

Jamaica’s Tourism Industry provides direct employment for approximately 26,000 Jamaican’s and indirectly employs another 17,000. Of the 1.2million Jamaican workforce, 47% of them are in the service sector. There has been steady growth in visitor arrivals over the years. The reports indicate that the number of tourists embarking on Jamaica’s soil almost doubled over the years 1971-1985, even demand may have fallen at various points during that period. In 1985, stop-over guests amounted to 67% of the total 846,716 visitors (mainly cruise ship passengers and armed forces personnel) to the island that year. During the period of 1979 and 1985, visitor expenditures increased from 194.3 to 406.8 million US dollars. In 1993 Jamaica’s 18,500 hotel rooms accommodated 979,000 stop-overs and the island hosted 630,000 cruise ship passengers (in 1993 the 1.6 million visitors to the island surpassed the 1992 figure of 1.5 million). The Jamaica Tourist Board stated that it anticipates the construction of 7-8,000 more hotel rooms in the areas of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril over the next five years.

The government, in an attempt to encourage tourism investment, has implemented generous tax incentives. Under the Industrial/Hotel Incentives Act, the owner or operator of an approved hotel enterprise is entitled to relief from income and dividend tax for a period of up to 7 years. In addition, the owner may also benefit from a duty exemption on imports for constructing or expanding hotels. Owners and operators of resort cottages also are entitled to these benefits. The problem, however, with this is that the liberalization means that these hotels are permitted to keep their money where they want (which in many cases is in offshore accounts or invested in other projects overseas). It is not certain as to what percent of the money generated from the industry flows back into the national economy.

With there being an increase in the population of the island and tourism on the rise, as well as government intervention to attract tourism, what are people doing to help conserve the natural environment. When I visited the island last year, there seemed to be a stress when it came to wasting tap water. When I went scuba diving they gave explicit instructions not to touch the living coral reefs. When I went snorkeling off a beach near Negril, there was what smelled like a sewage discharge running straight into the ocean like a river. Everything was dead where it entered the sea (coral, fish, the sand was dark, etc.). The Negril Inn, at Poincianna, where I stayed was also heavily expanding at the time. They were in the middle of a 600 room addition. With all these mega-hotels expanding, where were they getting their resources?

The increasing number of tourists, with extremely high consumption habits, places a huge strain on the local resources. A sticker put in my bathroom by the Water Resources Authority of Jamaica at the Negril Inn, stated, "Studies indicate that the average tourist ingests ten times as much water and produces three times as much solid waste as the average resident."

Sewage disposal is a major problem throughout the island. Even though the large hotels generally have treatment plants, the effectiveness of which is very questionable. The volume of waste that is being treated and the efficiency of the operators are factors that greatly affect the effectiveness of the treatment systems. "In 1995, there were 26 officially recognized dump sights. The government is considering a national rationalization program for solid waste management." Jamaican beaches are the most attractive aspects of the tourism sector. "The Beaches and Rivers Monitoring Project was implemented in 1996. Water samples taken at Bluefields, the only bathing beach visited, revealed unsatisfactory fecal coliform levels."

The steady increase in the hotel construction and the need for cement has led to the destruction of beaches and the dune barrier along the seashore. During a tour I had taken along the southern coast led by Ja-Mon Tours Inc., stated that many years ago, Jamaica’s beaches were lined by dunes of sand, which were formed by storm seas, each storm adding a little more. During natural disasters like hurricanes or tropical storms, the wave energy was absorbed by the dune barrier, which protected the land behind it from flooding and erosion. The hotel activities, the construction of other buildings, and the heavy use of public beaches have led to the usage of the dune barrier from along the beaches, thereby resulting in vulnerable towns and homes during storms. As you travel down the beaches away from the tourist areas, they are lined with high cement walls to do the job of what were once the dunes.

There has been significant advancement in Jamaica’s institutional capability to monitor beaches and their use by major hotels. In 1991, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) was created by the Jamaican Government as the primary regulating and enforcement agency. "The NRCA now possesses broad powers to require an environmental impact assessment for any proposed development and the authority to halt projects that would unduly harm the resource base." They have passed many policies dealing with natural resources including seagrass, beaches, water management, etc. Major hotels, do not realize, "One of the most common sources of damage to seagrasses and beaches has been dredge and fill for the construction of ports, buildings, large waterfront industries, water channels, and roads."

Tourism has brought about a complete change to the natural environment. It has had a significant impact on the beautiful white beaches, the wildlife, the marine life, the vegetation, as well as Jamaica’s resources including its drinking water, and its forests. Perhaps the most detrimental and most damaging effect the billion-dollar tourist industry has inadvertently caused is the Americanization of what was once a Jamaican lifestyle. It has changed the entire value system of the many island people in general. Due to the amount of jobs and money that the tourist industry generates, more and more Jamaicans see tourism as an economical opportunity and want a piece of the pie.

The big tourist industry has put up a front. They advertise what Jamaica really isn’t, "An Island Paradise, The seductive colors of an eclectic Jamaica…The serene, entrancing breeze of the Caribbean…The passion you share." People who visit the island hardly get a chance to see what the actual culture is about. Often times they do not even go outside the premises of the hotel they stay.

In a book by Deborah McLaren, she states, "the tourist industry enforced and encouraged the distance between tourists and locals. A sign near the fence at the end of the beach said it all: "NO LOCALS ALLOWED." The tee shirts and bikinis in the souvenir shop were imported form the U.S. The restaurant staff explained the food was also shipped in from Florida." In her case, she went to Jamaica to see the backcountry. She wanted to better understand the meaning of the revolutionary spirit. She also stated, "I had not realized the depth of the realities of struggle, racism, and oppression–the sheer poverty that many Jamaicans live with every day, the historical hardships the culture had experienced."

Tourist attractions like the Dunn’s River Falls have been slowly transforming. When I visited the falls, their beauty took me by surprise. It seemed like I was in the middle of a rainforest. I climbed all over them with other tourists around me. Although, when I sat and looked around, I noticed that there were no local Jamaicans taking advantage of this same experience I was having. The only locals I had seen were just there to support the tourist industry. There were a few vendors selling hand made trinkets and souvenirs. Others were offering other tours. I felt like I was back on the beach in front of my resort.

On the same tour, the guide brought us through some of the actual poverish country. The real deal. There were children running around naked with flies swarming around them. There were shanties that a tourist could not find their way into, let alone live in with a family of five. I felt like I was an intruder. I felt like I had absolutely no connection to the real Jamaican culture. It was depressing. It was nothing like what the brochures depicted.

I would have to say that the tourist industry is perhaps Jamaica’s Babylon. It seems like tourism controls the culture and not vice versa. Within the past 20 years tourism has not only helped the economy but has inadvertently transformed the idea of what being a Jamaican citizen means. It seems like the music of Jamaica has taken a momentary pause. Jamaicans are still rebelling but they are also succumbing to the fruit of the white man, the foreigner. They want to earn a living and feeding the tourists with what they want and don’t want is one way of doing it. Bob Marley had seen it coming back in 1972 when he wrote the lyrics to Concrete Jungle.

No sun will shine in my day today.

The high yellow moon won’t come out to play.

Darkness has covered my light,

And has changed my day into night.

Now where is this love to be found, won’t someone tell me?

‘Cause life, sweet life, must be somewhere to be found, yeah.

Instead of a concrete jungle where the livin’ is the hardest.

Concrete jungle, oh man, you’ve got to do your best, yeah.

No chains around my feet, but I’m not free.

Bob Marley, like many reggae artists speak of human rights, their oppression, their Babylon. Forever it seems they have been under the wrath of the white man. Jamaicans have the option to sit back and let what little moneymaking opportunities pass by or "jump on the band wagon" and work under him.

While most benefit from the tourist industry in one way or another, others take advantage of it in a negative way, creating a negative stereotype for those ignorant tourists. Similar to my experience, Deborah McLaren describes her first experience of the Island,

"My whole experience that day was one of hustlers, drug dealers,

and more hustlers. I was unable to walk around freely without an

offer for a "guide," to buy some "smoke," or to inspect the local wood

carving shops. It was off-season and the tourism-dependent

economy was in its downswing, and people were desperate.

Shopkeepers even sent people out into the streets to round up tourists

to bring back to their shops."

What people do not realize is that Jamaica is a "third world" country. People who have jobs are happy now that the minimum wage just went up from $30 to $40 per week. I will bet that around 95% of all tourists never once leave the compound in which they are staying in fear of getting "taken advantage of." They have developed the stereotype solely from their experience on the beach outside their resort.

There is a definite need for change both for the Island itself and for the Islanders as well. We are starting to see some legislation and aid through organizations like the National Resources Conservation Authority, The Embassies of Jamaica, and even concerned American volunteers who are working together in hopes for some beneficial reform. Taxes and acts have been passed to ensure a fraction of money that the tourists leave in Jamaica stays in Jamaica and doesn’t go back to the national economy.

As for human rights and Jamaican citizen’s oppression, we already have volunteer groups like the Peace Corps, and Americorps to try to help preserve their culture, and teach the impoverished new techniques to help them survive. Although, some would think this would be Americanizing the culture, others would disagree. I am sure most Jamaicans would not turn down U.S. aid if it were handed to them.

I must say, the best way to look at the future is one day at a time. Change doesn’t happen by reflecting in the past. What is done is done. The people of Jamaica must concentrate on their futures. They are the ones that are being oppressed. They must continue to "stand up for their rights." Bob Marley captures this feeling of living in an insecure fantasy like most tourists do.

Bless my eyes this morning,

Jah sun is on the rise once again.

The way earthly things are going,

Anything can happen.

You see men sailing on their ego trips,

Blast off on their spaceships,

Million miles from reality;

No care for you, no care for me.

So much trouble in the world.

So you think you found the solution,

But it’s just another illusion.

So before you check out this tide

Don’t leave another cornerstone

Standing there behind.

We’ve got to face the day,

Ooh wee, come what may.

We the street people talking,

We the people struggling.

Now they’re sitting on a time bomb;

Now I know the time has come.

What goes on up is coming on down,

Goes around and comes around.

So much trouble in the world.



Bob Marley Foundation. Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom. Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation. Wisconsin, 1992, pg.163.

Changes in Lattitudes, Couples Negril, 1997, , 4/9/00.

Deborah, McLaren. Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel: The Paving of Paradise and What You Can Do to Stop It. Kumarian Press. 1997. Also .

Department of Commerce, Business and Trade Opportunities in Jamaica’s Tourist Sector, 0241517z, February 1995.

Department of Commerce, Sustainable Development: Contribution of Tourism in the Jamaican Economy, R 062059Z, July 1994.

Government of Jamaica, Organization of American States, Economic Analysis of Tourism in Jamaica, September 1994. Also, visit the web sight

Health Analysis, Country Health Data of Jamaica, last revised10/19/99,

Myers, Fletcher & Morgan, A lawyers Guide to Jamaica, no date, , 4/2/00.

Seagrasses Policy and Regulation natural Resources Conservation Authority Coastal Zone Management Division, April, 1996,, 4/6/00.

Water Resources Authority, March 10, 2000, , 4/2/00.

U.S. Department of State, Background Notes: Jamaica, March 1998. Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. No author, U.S. Department of State, March 1998,