JAMAICA TRAVEL: A state of emergency has been declared

  • 08-11-2019
  • mitykumar
  • Travel Guides
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A state of emergency has been declared for the key tourist gateway of Montego Bay and the surrounding area. Thousands of British holidaymakers are in Jamaica, with many more booked to travel in the next few weeks – on winter sun trips to resorts or on cruises. Many people have contacted The Independent for advice. This is what we know so far.

What has changed?

If you're in the Parish of St James, which includes the main holiday hub of Montego Bay, "Tourists should stay in their resorts and limit travel beyond their respective security perimeters," says the bulletin.

The only times when they should leave the resorts are for "travel to and from the airport or for excursions". Transport for these journeys should be arranged by the resort hotels, the FCO advises.

This is very unusual Foreign Office advice. Normally the Government says simply "it's OK" or "don't go". But this is new: urging British holidaymakers in the Montego Bay area in the north-west of the island not to wander away from their gated, guarded all-inclusive resorts on their own.

Why? 

In the past 48 hours the Jamaican prime minister has declared a State of Public Emergency in the parish of St James. The murder rate is twice as high as in any other parish last year there were six killings a week on average, and since the start of the year "general lawlessness" has intensified.

Relative to its population, Jamaica has a murder rate roughly 10 times higher than the US and 50 times higher than Britain.

Does this warning affect other parts of the island?

No, resorts such as Negril in the west and Ocho Rios in the east are unaffected by the new Foreign Office advice. However, flights for most holidaymakers arrive at, and leave from, Montego Bay, so it applies for travel to and from the city's airport.

Wherever you are on the island, the FCO still warns of very high crime levels: "Be vigilant at all times, even if you're staying with friends and family. Don't walk alone in isolated areas or on deserted beaches, even during the day. Take particular care when withdrawing money from ATMs. Don't carry large amounts of cash or wear eye-catching jewellery. Try to vary which restaurants you use. Using the same place too often might make you a target for thieves."

How many British visitors are there in Jamaica – and what's happening to them?

Based on Foreign Office figures and analysing flight schedules both direct and via the US, I estimate around 5,000 British visitors are on the island – a number of them people with family connections to Jamaica. TUI flies in around 900 a week from Gatwick and Manchester, while Virgin Atlantic has three 747s a week from Gatwick. One of them touched down late on Friday night. 

The new arrivals due to stay in Montego Bay will find that they are "confined to barracks", albeit very comfortable barracks, except when they are on an organised excursion or a transfer to the airport.

What about insurance?

The Association of British Insurers tells me: "Tourists already in the north-west of the island should follow FCO advice with travel policies remaining force.

"If anyone does not follow FCO advice and is injured, and needs emergency medical treatment, then this would be covered. Of course the golden rule is to take reasonable care at all times, which is what your travel insurer will expect you to do." If you do switch destination, then your insurance should be transferable, although if you change to Florida or another US destination then you may need to pay an increased premium.

Are holidays still on sale?

Yes, and so long as there is no warning against travel, they will continue to be sold. The UK's biggest holiday company, TUI, has some cheap deals going to Montego Bay from Gatwick and from Manchester on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 January respectively, and is selling cruises with its Marella brand for next month – starting and ending in Montego Bay.

Are other cruise ships still calling at Montego Bay?

Yes, there appears to be no change to calls, with ships expected this weekend and through the remainder of winter. Most passengers are on organised tours, and therefore they will automatically comply with the new advice.

What are the options for the tens of thousands who have forward bookings for Jamaica?

I've been asked by several imminent visitors: "Can I insist on a change of destination without incurring any charges? I'm due to fly on Tuesday." The answer is no. Unless the Foreign Office warns against travel, holiday firms are likely to maintain existing terms to customers with forward bookings for Jamaica. They will not be able to switch destination or cancel the trip without penalty. For imminent departures, that will probably mean losing all your money.

Would you go there now?

I have had nothing but great travel experiences in Jamaica, going independently but relying on advice from local people. Adam Williamson, who arrived back in the UK yesterday, said life had changed little. Gloucester Avenue, the "hip strip" that is the main tourism artery in Montego Bay, is lively and occasionally intimidating because of hustlers. But he says: "There wasn't any time when I thought I might get physically hurt." 

Yet the UK Government says you should give Montego Bay a wide berth, unless you are staying in an all-inclusive resort. So the Hip Strip could be quiet tonight.

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