Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the latest of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Jamaica.

Its beautiful beaches and relaxed reggae culture, as well as extensive tourist resorts, make Jamaica an attractive Caribbean destination. We asked three experts about the biggest risks facing visitors to Jamaica, and what can be done to minimise those risks. We also asked what companies need to do before sending employees and contractors to Jamaica for work.

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Jamaica from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

Violent crime in Jamaica has lead to a state of emergency in the parishes of St Catherine and St James. Roadblocks are common and visitors may be asked for ID. The military is assisting the police in security efforts.

The US Embassy restricts travel by American government personnel to certain areas, including:

  • Kingston – Downtown Kingston, including Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens; Standpipe, Grants Pen, and Cassava Piece.
  • Montego Bay – Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street.
  • Spanish Town

Airport transfers

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns travellers to be cautious on their way to and from the Norman Manley International Airport

There have been outbreaks of violence in recent years in the Mountain View area on the route between Kingston and Norman Manley International Airport. Therefore, you should avoid the Mountain View Avenue route and use the alternative signposted Humming Bird route via South Camp Road instead.

The British High Commission has previously received reports of British nationals being robbed when travelling to private accommodation from Norman Manley International Airport. Be especially vigilant when travelling from the airport to your accommodation.

Other things to note

  • Resort staff are ‘prohibited against fraternization and intimacy with guests‘. If you find a staff member at your hotel is breaking this rule and becoming overly familiar, report it to your consular services.
  • LGBT+ travellers should be aware the some same-sex sexual activity is illegal, though the laws are not always enforced. However, there can be considerable hostility to LGBT+ people, especially in rural areas.
  • Marijuana use is widespread, but remains illegal – possession may result in a fine and arrest.
  • Epi-pens are not sold anywhere on the island.
  • Healthcare providers may require cash payments – make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance and strongly consider getting insurance that includes medical evacuation. If you have a pre-existing health condition, talk to an independent broker who will be able to help.
  • Visitors to Jamaica may be exposed to Zika. Recent studies show that ‘as many as one in seven infants whose mothers were exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy later developed health problems.‘ If you and your partner are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant in the next six months, you should discuss this with your doctor.

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John Stokes at Drum Cusssac

John Stokes at Drum Cussac

Email: ias@drum-cussac.com
Website: http://drum-cussac.com/
Twitter: @DrumCussac
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/drum-cussac
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drumcussac

John is a Senior Analyst at Drum Cussac, primarily focusing on the Americas and South Asia. Drum Cussac is a risk consultancy specialising in travel risk management.

How safe is it to visit Jamaica?

While “safe” is in the eye of the beholder, most visits to Jamaica occur without any serious negative incidents. Indeed, if travel within the country is spent almost exclusively at one of the country’s numerous resorts or occurs via cruise ship, the traveller will be almost entirely insulated from the island’s crime threat, a problem which has threatened to derail its reputation as a Caribbean mainstay destination. Those embarking on more independent or individualised trips, however, will need to pay careful attention to their itineraries, specifically if staying in one of Jamaica’s cities.

What are the biggest risks?

Currently, crime is by far the biggest problem on the island’s hands, largely as a function of a lack of economic opportunities as well as the influence of narco-trafficking, both of which have birthed significant gang sects in urban contexts. Those travelling in St. James (including Montego Bay) and St. Catherine Parishes (including Spanish Town) should note that most of those two areas, in particular, have been under states of emergency since earlier this year in order to combat what were dangerously high crime rates. Government statistics suggest that the additional policing powers granted by the measure have been effective at reducing violent crime, which though not particularly directed at tourists had caused a great deal of skittishness. Contextually, however, though Jamaica’s homicide rate (often taken as a broader indicator of the prevalence of violent crime) hovers high at around 43 per 100,000, it is less than that of the US Virgin Islands (around 52), a destination which has largely escaped Jamaica’s infamy.

All the same, typical opportunistic threats as well as more dangerous violent crime remain concerns in Jamaica’s cities; popular public beaches and other tourist locales, particularly if isolated, also bring a greater risk of robbery ranging from snatch-and-grab theft to outright armed robbery. Due to a lack of effective gun control, guns are extensively used in the context of violent crime, including during robberies. Impunity rates for such crimes are often high, though Jamaican authorities are sensitive about crimes targeting tourists and may therefore pursue such incidents with greater resources. In general, the violent crime risk will be lower in rural areas, though there is no hard and fast rule.

What are the overlooked risks?

While tropical systems are not overlooked in the broader Caribbean context, they are often overlooked when discussing Jamaica. This is because the island was spared from 2017’s particularly devastating season and, in general, does benefit somewhat from being shielded by the Antilles to its east, which can weaken incoming systems depending upon trajectory. Regardless, the gradual rise in sea temperatures is likely to produce both a greater number of storms as well as storms with higher intensities which even more developed islands like Jamaica will be hard-pressed to handle. Even strikes by minor storms can result in catastrophic flooding, mudslides and wind damage that can paralyse power and water services as well as road transport; looting is a serious concern for hard-hit urban areas in a storm’s aftermath, particularly if police services have been affected by the storm. Jamaica has been hit by both minor and major hurricanes in the past. The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from roughly June through November, with activity peaking in September.

Perhaps even less considered is the possibility for seismic activity, as Jamaica lies near at least two fault zones that have produced significant earthquakes in the past, including the 1905 quake which devastated Kingston. While the government has invested in continued seismic research and preparedness, structures on the island are highly vulnerable to moderate-to-major quakes, particularly as building standards are not always uniformly enforced. Unlike the risk posed by tropical systems, seismic events can occur at any time of the year and are preceded by very little warning.

A special note should be made for LGBT+ travellers, as levels of violence against queer-identified individuals are believed to be among the highest in the Americas. Same-sex sexual activity between men, as defined by anti-sodomy and anti-“gross indecency” laws, remains illegal; while same-sex sexual activity between females is technically legal, it is nevertheless not culturally tolerated. In general, same-sex displays of affection run a high risk of being met with harassment and violence, even in cities. LGBT+ events are seldom held due to the prevailing cultural atmosphere.

How should people mitigate this?

In terms of the crime threat, exercising common sense and reasonable caution will go a long way. Travellers should research the more dangerous areas of any cities to be visited so as to avoid said areas and should refrain from walking in isolated areas – including beaches – particularly at night. It is wise to also refrain from wearing flashy or otherwise expensive clothing and accessories, as this risks attracting unwanted attention; all non-necessary valuables should be left in a concealed and secure place in travellers’ accommodations, and nothing of value should be left visible on car seats, dashboards or floorboards. Alcohol consumption while at public bars and restaurants should be carefully monitored, primarily so as to avoid a level of intoxication that could subsequently make travellers an “easy target” for theft or robbery.

Natural disasters are somewhat more difficult to mitigate, though tropical systems can often be predicted with enough advance warning to allow for travel alterations or else storm preparations. Many travellers opt to buy travel insurance that covers cancellations or evacuation in the case of natural disasters. Regardless, those staying in apartments or at budget accommodations may wish to ensure that they have backup supplies such as bottled water, batteries and non-perishable food items in the event of a more non-predictable disaster such as a major earthquake.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Jamaica have in place? What should employees ask for?

Duty of care provisions will understandably depend upon the specific itinerary but can always be best defined by carrying out a risk assessment prior to travel that takes into account all pertinent locales as well as expected pedestrian/vehicle routes. A more in-depth pre-travel security audit may be advisable for certain itineraries, particularly those that are urban-heavy. Risk management plans should cover the possibilities of natural disasters in addition to taking into account the more typical crime-related risks. At the most general level, set check-in times should be encouraged while employees are in-country.

Employees should ask for risk management plans that take into account the main points listed above as well as a guaranteed “emergency” means to contact the employer or his/her representative, should the need arise. An in-person briefing regarding key risks (including “areas to avoid”) and mitigation techniques may also prove valuable prior to departure.


Image by Wine Dharma on Unsplash

Georgina Wright at Healix International and HX Global

Email address: georgina.wright@healix.com
Website: https://www.healix.com
Twitter: @healix_security

I’m a London-based Regional Security Analyst at Healix International and HX Global. I specialise in the Americas region, though I often contribute to a number of global risk management services. Healix International and HX Global are leading providers of global travel risk management and international medical, security and travel assistance services.

How safe is it to visit Jamaica?

Overall we consider Jamaica to be a moderate risk country, rated 3 on a 5 tier scale; this is due to the high levels of criminal activity. Most travellers will find themselves in areas with a higher presence of security forces as the Jamaican government has economic incentives to protect major tourist and business destinations due to its reliance on the industry. There are currently three states of emergencies in place for St. James parish, St. Catherine parish and certain parts of Kingston, the capital city, which are aimed at decreasing crime rates where the military supports local police in maintaining safety. Since the states of emergencies have been implemented, crime rates in those areas have significantly decreased, increasing the level of safety for foreign nationals.

Travel to Jamaica can continue as normal, and most people will travel without incident, but we recommend researching your potential destinations and associated risks to travel.  Some simple precautions that can be put in place to mitigate risks include booking a hotel/accommodation in a safe location, i.e. a location in a tourist area with adequate security measures. Other precautions include not walking alone at night, only walking along streets that are well lit and well travelled by other pedestrians, and not overtly displaying any signs of wealth.

What are the biggest risks?

While Jamaica suffers from a moderate crime rate, including violent crime, the biggest risk posed to foreign nationals is opportunistic crime. Thieves will look for jewellery, cash and valuable electronic items. Criminals usually target individuals who leave bags on their chairs behind them and leave phones or cameras on tabletops where they can easily be grabbed. Muggings are nearly always non-violent in nature, but that can easily change if an individual attempts to resist.

Violent crime such as gang violence and shootings are statistically less common and predominantly affect the local population. These incidents are mostly concentrated in inner-city neighbourhoods or low-income areas, including West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, August Town, Harbour View, and Spanish Town. Montego Bay areas that are impacted include Barrett Town, Flankers, Glendevon, Mt Salem, Norwood, and Rose Heights.

What are the overlooked risks?

Sexual assault:

Unfortunately, over recent years there have been increased reports of sexual assault carried out on female travellers. The majority of attacks have occurred at night but some reports indicate that women may have been assaulted on hotel resorts. The incidents usually involve travellers accepting ‘spiked’ food or drinks from locals, but can also be perpetrated by other tourists.

Natural Disasters:

Jamaica is susceptible to earthquakes, both small and large, to major hurricanes during the Atlantic hurricane season, to severe storms and to tsunamis. While the majority of seismic activities are small-scale, larger earthquakes have occurred in the past and can cause significant damage.

Jamaica’s hurricane season runs from June to November, where landslides, mudslides, and flooding could potentially occur. Tropical storms also have the potential to render some roads temporarily impassable. Travel to Jamaica during this season can continue but should only be undertaken with robust security precautions. This includes having the proper insurance in place, having adequate supplies in the event of a hurricane and potentially possessing a satellite phone for emergencies.

Civil Unrest:

Public order incidents and demonstrations can occur in Kingston, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay and can rapidly turn violent with little to no warning. The majority of civil unrest occurs in Kingston where it usually turns violent rapidly with protesters using firearms and other weaponry. Other impromptu demonstrations can occur along the roads leading to Norman Manley International Airport and can involve amateur roadblocks.

How should people mitigate this?

Research prior to travel should be conducted so individuals can ascertain the risks posed to them and the likelihood of an incident occurring in certain areas. The following is not an exhaustive list of measures to be taken but may significantly reduce the potential impact and likelihood of a security incident.

Crime:

  • Care should be taken to avoid overt displays of wealth such as jewellery or watches to minimise the risks of being targeted by petty criminals. Leave valuables at home, or in the safe provided at your accommodation, including your passport.
  • Only hire taxis authorised by the Jamaica Tourist Board usually operated by the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) or taxis ordered from hotels for sole use – do not share taxis. Do not give lifts from strangers and keep car doors and windows locked and ensure valuables including handbags are kept out of sight.
  • All tourists should avoid travelling alone at night and should never accept a drink they haven’t seen been made, or opened themselves.

Natural Disasters:

  • In the event of a natural disaster, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.
  • If an earthquake occurs, adopt the ‘stop, cover, and hold on’ stance and prepare for aftershocks. Travellers should not attempt to enter buildings that have been structurally compromised due to the risk of collapse.
  • Do not attempt to cross floodwaters due to the potential of downed electrical lines and fast flowing waters.

Civil Unrest:

  • Avoid all large gatherings and protests due to the risk of incidental violence, especially as criminals often use the confusion of such events to engage in acts such as robbery.
  • Monitor local and social media for updates on potential locations for protests and areas to avoid.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Jamaica have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employees should be fully briefed on the potential risks posed to them and provided with relevant information on mitigating those risks. A list of accredited drivers should be provided if possible, along with locations of emergency centres and their numbers, including verified hospitals, police stations, natural disaster centres, and relevant embassies. Employers should ensure that there is ground support in place which involves individuals who have local knowledge and expertise on operational conditions and current resource availability.

Employees should ensure that they are familiar with company protocols in place for what to do if they are in need of assistance. Make sure you are insured through your company or by yourself in the event on any incidents.

Kingston, Jamaica by James Willamor on Flickr

Joseph Mroszczyk, Manager, Intelligence Products and Services at Global Rescue

Email: press@globalrescue.com
Website: https://www.globalrescue.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobalRescue
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/global-rescue-llc

How safe is it to visit Jamaica?

While many trips to Jamaica occur without incident, there are a number of security concerns travellers should be aware of, particularly related to crime and violent crime. Due to a surge in the number of homicides and other violent crimes, the Jamaican government has instituted a state of emergency in parts of the country, namely the Parish of St. James (which includes Montego Bay) until 31 October 2018 and St. Catherine North until 2 October. There are also Zones of Special Operations in some neighbourhoods of the capital, Kingston. Under these measures, the military can support police in these areas in responding to the violence, and road closures and other travel restrictions may occur with no notice. Travellers may also be stopped at checkpoints and asked for identification information. While most of the violence has been gang-related and does not specifically target foreigners, travellers have been victims of acts of both violent and non-violent crime in the past.

What are the biggest risks?

The biggest risks in Jamaica are related to crime, both violent and non-violent, and foreign travellers—including US citizens—have been victim to various types of crimes in the country in the past. In 2017, the US Embassy reported that it was aware of at least six US citizens who were murdered, 20 who were robbed, and 12 who were raped or sexually assaulted, among other crimes.

Travellers should also be aware of potential travel risks in Jamaica during hurricane season, which runs from June to November with a peak period from early August to the end of October. Several hurricanes and tropical storms have impacted the country in the past, as they have many other locations in the Caribbean. Even if a storm or hurricane does not make direct landfall in Jamaica, it can still be affected by high winds and heavy rains by passing weather systems.

What are the overlooked risks?

Travellers should be aware of the risk of Zika virus in Jamaica. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that women who are pregnant should not travel to Jamaica, and partners of pregnant women and couples considering pregnancy should take certain preventative measures. Travellers should take this into account when considering a trip to Jamaica.

In addition, according to the US Embassy there are a variety of scams in Jamaica related to lottery and investments. There have also been reports of people fraudulently claiming to be Jamaican police or health officials calling relatives of US citizens travelling in Jamaica and insisting that they wire funds to them in order for their family member to either receive medical care or get out of prison.

How should people mitigate this?

Travellers can mitigate the threat of crime by avoiding higher-crime areas, particularly in places like Kingston and Montego Bay. Further, travellers should maintain situational awareness to avoid becoming a potential target for pickpocketing or other petty crime, particularly in popular tourist areas, shopping areas, and near bars/clubs. In addition, travellers can limit exposure to crime by avoiding travelling at night, avoiding public transportation, and by maintaining a low profile, i.e. keeping expensive items like jewellery, cell phones, and cameras out of view.

Regarding the potential threat of hurricanes, travellers planning to visit Jamaica during hurricane season should be aware that they may need to adjust travel itineraries and have a means to depart quickly, if required. If travelling during peak hurricane season, travellers should consider travel insurance and make necessary preparations in advance.

Further, travellers should be aware of CDC advice and warnings regarding Zika virus and take appropriate steps to prevent mosquito bites, reduce sexual exposure to Zika virus, and other measures to ensure they are minimizing or eliminating their risk.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Jamaica have in place? What should employees ask for?

To support duty of care responsibilities, organizations must know where their travellers are going and understand and disclose the potential travel risks they may encounter, particularly in relation to security concerns like elevated levels of crime and any existing states of emergency as well as the health-related concerns like Zika. When sending travellers to Jamaica, organizations must provide travellers with access to specific information, resources, and reasonable care to ensure their health, safety, and security.

Employees should be briefed on their specific travel locations and should be informed of their organization’s travel risk management and emergency protocols, prior to travel. In the case of a mass casualty or other disastrous event like a major hurricane, traditional means of communication can become incapacitated. Employers and employees should have a predetermined way to communicate in the event phones and text messaging are unavailable. They should also have a plan in place to evacuate in the event of an impending major storm.

Additionally, employers should support their employees by working with a trusted travel risk management provider to ensure all lodging and in-country transportation resources have been properly vetted.

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