Is it safe to travel to Jamaica following latest US advisory?

US embassy has warned Americans to 'reconsider travel' to the Caribbean nation

Jamaica is a popular travel destination, last year receiving more than four million tourists. Photo: Andrew Coelho / Unsplash
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The US last week issued a travel warning for people heading to Jamaica, following a spate of murders.

Now, travel specialists in the Caribbean nation are hitting back, saying Jamaica is “one of the safest travel destinations in the world”.

The US travel alert

The US government updated its level three travel advisory last Tuesday, urging its citizens to “reconsider travel” to the country “due to crime and [unreliable] medical services”.

The US embassy in Jamaica warned that “violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts.”

It added that local police “often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents” and that hospitals and ambulances are not always reliable, with some private institutions requiring payment up front.

“The homicide rate reported by the government of Jamaica has for several years been among the highest in the Western Hemisphere,” the State Department noted.

Crime rates against visitors 'remain extremely low'

The country, which has a population of about 2.8 million, recorded 65 homicides between January 1 and 27 of this year, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force. This is a drop from 81 in the same period of last year, but shootings and injuries increased year on year. Recorded rapes, however, have decreased significantly, according to the data.

The Jamaica Tourist Board responded to the updated alert, saying the crime rate against visitors in the country “remains extremely low, at 0.01 per cent”, adding that the island “consistently ranks among the top destinations for international travel”.

Last year, the country welcomed 4.1 million tourists, including 2.1 million from the US, the tourism authority said. “Visitors can continue to come with confidence to enjoy all that Jamaica has to offer.”

'Jamaica is much safer than any city in the US'

Peter Shoucair, a wedding and travel specialist who lives in Jamaica's capital Kingston, says more research should be done before advisories are put in place.

“Most problems are in very small pockets of the island and, like many countries, they are caused by a small number of persons or gang-related problems that spill over,” he tells The National. “Every country, including the US, has problems. It’s how it’s handled.”

Roberta Jarrett, a travel specialist in Falmouth, agrees. “Jamaica is much safer than any city in the US,” she says. Jarrett moved from Detroit, Michigan to the busy cruise-ship port town in the country's north, between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, in March last year.

“I think the US needs to find another way to scare its citizens into vacationing within the 50 states,” she adds. “Jamaica's travel volume is three times more than it was before Covid. Is it fair? No, it's not fair, but people realise that there is an advisory not to travel to Jamaica every year.”

Rebecca Alesia, who operates Wanderology, a luxury travel advisory service in New York City, says she has yet to receive any cancellations to Jamaica following the updated travel advisory.

“I firmly believe that concerns about safety can significantly impact a traveller’s ability to fully enjoy a vacation – this is a conversation we have daily with clients regarding many different locations,” she says.

“That having been said, Jamaica has long been a popular island vacation spot for families and couples alike – and our partners there consistently demonstrate an outstanding commitment to the safety and satisfaction of our clients.

“We believe in the resiliency and dedication of those partners and are so hopeful that this advisory will not have a lasting impact on tourism to the region.”

'Everyone wants to come back'

Both Jarrett and Shoucair don't expect the advisory to have much impact on the local travel industry. “I've had more bookings since the advisory and none of my current customers has cancelled,” says Jarrett.

Shoucair is hopeful the country's tourism ministry will continue to implement safeguards to ensure visitor safety, “like they did during the pandemic”.

He adds: “We rose out of the pandemic like Bolt at the Olympics and continue to make strides each year increasing our arrivals like never before.”

He says visitors can barely get a hotel room at the moment: “Jamaica is easy to market. Just say Jamaica and everyone wants to come back.

“We are little, but huge. We have our problems, but they are fixable. The country is made up of many races and all get along. This can’t be said in many first world countries.”

Echoing this sentiment, Jarrett says: “It is one of the safest travel destinations in the world.”

Updated: February 06, 2024, 6:32 AM