Despite Jamaica’s state of emergency for popular tourist area Montego Bay being extended for a second time, clients shouldn’t feel unsafe. That was the feedback from agents who went on the Jamaica Tourist Board’s latest fam trip. Nine travel consultants journeyed to the island to experience a multitude of adventures in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril – from touring a haunted house to sampling jerk cooking at beach shack restaurants.
Paul Salisbury, consultant at Not Just Travel, says he felt comfortable during the trip.
“We experienced the nitty-gritty of Jamaica, eating in local restaurants and partying until 2am at the clubs in Montego Bay. If it was dangerous, we just wouldn’t have done that. Everyone was so happy, friendly and just wanted to have a great time. We didn’t notice a particularly strong police presence anywhere either.”
For more anxious clients, Salisbury says most resorts are gated and have tight security.
“You can’t get into the resorts until you’ve been buzzed in. Most of the beaches are cordoned off to an extent too. It’s not like you’re going to get violent people coming in from the beach.”
Travel Counsellor Louise Banks had concerns about safety but admits they were unfounded after experiencing Jamaica first hand.
“I felt totally safe, and after going off the beaten track and rubbing shoulders with the locals, I’d be very keen to go back with my family. I’m more than happy to recommend the destination to clients now,” she says.
As well as visiting a number of resorts on the island, the group experienced some of Jamaica’s most popular attractions, including visits to Dunn’s River Falls, a rainforest bobsled ride at Mystic Mountain and a night on the tiles in Montego Bay.
At Scotchies in Ocho Rios, the group got stuck into authentic jerk chicken dishes, a taste sensation that Salisbury says he won’t quickly forget.
“Clients just have to try the jerk chicken and pork. The patties are great too. The best way to describe them would be that they are like Greggs but better! The meat inside is so tasty,” he says.
Banks, who has never been to Jamaica, explains how visiting Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril will enable her to match the destinations with the right clients more confidently.
“I think the best beaches are in Negril – it had the most laid-back feel. Ocho Rios is all about the activities with Dunn’s River Falls and the Mystic Mountain bobsled experience.” She adds that rafting at Martha Brae is ideal for couples and honeymooners on account of the romance factor.
Stacey Hammond, a consultant at Cooperative Travel, Beccles, enjoyed partying with the locals in Montego Bay but warns of the high levels of traffic that can amass when the cruise ships dock. She also offers advice for agents unsure of sending clients with mobility restrictions to Dunn’s River Falls.
“People who have a bad back or legs can still enjoy the views from the wheelchair-accessible platforms inside,” she explains.
Things took a supernatural turn when the group visited Rose Hall. Legend has it that the past owner, Annie Palmer, murdered three of her husbands and their ghosts still haunt the property. Salisbury tested his mettle in its darkened corridors.
“It was an amazing experience and the actors involved put on a great show. It’s great to do as a group and it really brought us together,” he says.
The agents all say they now feel more confident when selling Jamaica after gaining deeper product knowledge – especially of the activities beyond the major resorts. Hammond in particular had such a great time that she now recommends Jamaica above any other Caribbean island.
“Jamaica is the perfect place if clients want to get out and about, taking in loads of excursions during which they can get a real feel for the country,” she says. “Now when I have clients coming into the store I always put Jamaica forward first. It’s definitely top of my list.”