Monday, August 30, 2004

Minister: Jamaican crime hurting tourism

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- Jamaica's unprecedented crime level is threatening to derail the Caribbean island's vital tourism industry by scaring away visitors and hurting investment, the tourism minister said.

Speaking at a political meeting on Sunday, Aloun N'Dombet Assamba said that no amount of overseas advertising dollars could counter the negative publicity associated with the island's worsening crime wave.

"There is nothing I can do ... to move us forward if we are constantly having to fight the battle against crime," she said. "Too much of our resources are lost that way, too much of our people are lost that way."

More than 900 people have been slain on the island of 2.6 million this year, compared to 975 for all of 2003. The country is on pace to surpass its record of 1,138 homicides in 2001.

Despite the upsurge in violence, tourist arrivals to Jamaica have remained steady. More than 1.3 million tourists have visited so far this year, up 6.4 percent over the same period in 2003, officials say.

However, Assamba said there are growing signs that crime is hurting business at some hotels and slowing tourism development. She said a group of potential investors recently canceled a trip to the former British colony over security concerns.

"If we don't put a grip on the crime, we won't get investment," she said.

Jamaica saw record highs of tourist arrivals in 2003, with about 2.5 million visitors, mostly from North America, following a sharp downturn in travel after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

About 5,000 new hotel rooms are to be built on the island over the next five years.

Tourism is Jamaica's largest source of foreign income, earning about 15 percent of gross domestic product.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.