Written by Shakira Nagashima, CNN
With a third of its tourists coming from America last year, Jamaica is seeking more US visitors.
To that end, the island has been getting in touch with Washington. That’s because Jamaica has created a Consulate in the District of Columbia, formally opening its doors on March 28. It’s the first for the island in the United States.
“The US, in particular, is an important tourism destination,” says Consul General Philip Bowring. “That’s why we’re here. I think there are a number of reasons why we’re here. One is that you can get good flights from New York and Boston, and also Toronto, so from Boston and New York, a lot of people are traveling to Jamaica. You also have flight connections from Atlanta, Atlanta, and Houston, which are popular destinations for US visitors. And we’re bringing in more opportunities for public and private sector connectivity to strengthen ties.”
On his first visit to D.C., Bowring spoke with CNN about Jamaica’s progress with tourism, and a strong chance it could become a safe haven for the legalization of marijuana.
Q: Jamaica has long been known for its friendly people, but just weeks ago, a U.S. diplomatic source told CNN there was a growing and worrisome risk to U.S. tourists traveling there. What’s the situation with U.S. tourists visiting Jamaica right now?
A: People come to Jamaica for the warm, friendly atmosphere. One of the reasons people travel to Jamaica is because it is an all-inclusive resort island, so it’s very easy to just relax in a pool and just unwind and enjoy the pleasures of Jamaica.
Sometimes you will have people come from St. Thomas, and they have very little opportunity to get out and enjoy any of the sites, so that’s where you see a problem. When we did the information process, we did do it with a second agent, and over 96% of the survey respondents reported that their time at the resorts were very, very good, and they looked forward to coming back.
The tourism sector continues to prosper, but it’s facing some hurdles, from meeting insurance requirements for visitors to Mexico to high crime rates. What are the challenges facing the tourism industry?
We have had earthquakes this year in both Mexico and Guatemala, and we’ve had 18 homicides there last month, so they’ve had a lot of problems with the tourists so far, but most of the tourists who visited Mexico since the earthquake are coming back to Mexico.
“If you’re going to have a problem, it’s the Marriott in Washington or the Smith Barney in New York. They’re all doing pretty well,” says Consul General Philip Bowring, who founded the Caribbean Tourism Organization in 1981. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
We understand that there’s one court ruling that still needs to be ruled on for the legalization of marijuana, but there’s strong interest in the discussion on what’s happening in Jamaica regarding marijuana and medical use. We look forward to the time where you can’t get pulled over and you can’t get arrested for possession.
Q: Do you think U.S. tourists will increasingly see Jamaica as a safe and familiar vacation spot?
A: We already have families coming back, over 1 million Americans who come to Jamaica last year, and we’re seeking out more of them, but we are concerned about anyone going into armed conflict zones, like the Congo and Venezuela. The West Indies has become a bit of a buffer zone as it were, so there’s been some successful outreach and exchanges of information about these countries to our community and the US.