So I sent a letter directly to the Minister and Junior Minister of tourism in Jamaica about my feelings towards the image of tourism on the island. I’ll never know what happened to the letter unless I magically get a call saying they loved it or hated it. I was encouraged to stop sitting on these issues by a friend and long time (best ever!) fan of Jamaica My Way, who also happens to have some connections in the right government places in Jamaica.
I couldn’t just write a big complaint letter and not try to include some kind of solution, whether my self-righteous proposal is valid or not. It’s SOMETHING which is more than nothing and if I could find a TEAM of people exactly like me we would be in a position to make change. But alas, the overwhelming majority of travelers are satisfied with just being travelers. I need revolutionaries.
Before anyone thinks I should get off my high horse (after reading it) I just want you to know that I’m not blowing my own horn. I’m just not a person who can be satisfied with regular tourism anymore. I want better and I think the JTB should want better for themselves. There are a LOT of problems in Jamaica and I think that if tourism was being “done right” many Jamaicans themselves could benefit (not just the tourists and the wealthy resorts).
Without further delay, here is my letter:
August 28, 2013
To: Mr. Whykeham McNeil
Minister of Tourism, Jamaica
CC: Damion Crawford
Junior Minister of Tourism
Re: The Jamaica tourist board and how it appears to outsiders
Have you ever given someone a really great job reference only to find out they got the job and then performed poorly? This, in turn, makes you feel upset about giving them such a glowing reference because it reflects on you.
My name is Kristi Keller and I’m about to propose something to the Ministry of Tourism that the Jamaica Tourist Board has either forgotten about or just plain neglected. But all is not lost because my proposal will bring back something to tourism in Jamaica that was never there. Diligence.
Please hear me out because you may find some enlightenment within these pages, on how things may look to an outsider looking in. No insult is intended, only insight. This letter is written with as much respect as I can muster while trying to get my point across at the same time.
HOW AM I QUALIFIED TO SPEAK ON TOURISM IN JAMAICA?
Following is an introduction to who I am and how I’m qualified to give advice on Jamaica travel and how the JTB could effectively represent its country.
My Island Credentials:
• Have traveled Jamaica extensively for 10+ years to feed my love of the culture and history of the island. I know Jamaica better than I know my native country, Canada.
• Visited and explored 13 out of 14 parishes in Jamaica, including many places nobody wants to go.
• Have been blogging and writing about Jamaica since 2009 and won two awards for best Jamaican blog content in 2011.
• Contributing writer for Our Jamaica magazine, the official JHTA hotel magazine.
• Touring my blog readers around the island and collecting new friends from all over the world that I’ve met because of Jamaica.
• Stayed in and reviewed too many hotels, guest houses and villas to count.
• Toured, photographed and wrote property listings for approximately 50 villas for a vacation rental website.
• Gained recognition and sponsorship from Budget Rental Car Jamaica.
• Approached by a Hollywood screen writer to be a technical adviser on a film being made in Jamaica.
• Participated in a sponsored social media program for Virgin Atlantic Airlines, in their Jamaica campaign.
• Many pending invitations for accommodation reviews that I’m trying to fit in.
• Published two ebooks – one about the ups and downs about quitting life to spend extended time in Jamaica, and one full of travel tips that most travel agents don’t know about.
• Last but not least, out of personal interest I have volunteered and raised money for those less fortunate in your country. Just because I wanted to.
Most recently, I became an accredited travel agent with an obvious specialization in Jamaica travel. I had unofficially planned hundreds of vacations for people from all over the world before becoming an agent, which is what led me to the decision to get my accreditation.
WHAT YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW BUT NEED TO HEAR
Becoming a travel agent forced me into broadening my sights and studying different locations within the Caribbean. Since I’ve never been anywhere but Jamaica I have to study tourist board websites of other countries in order to sell that country.
As a result of my investigating I am both delighted and saddened. Delighted to see other countries take such pride in their outward appearance to the traveling world, and saddened to know that the Visit Jamaica website provides little to no real information, nor does it respond to tourist inquiries. I have tested the inquiry process many times and have never once received a response.
Upon getting familiar with Barbados, for example, I learned that they are the most re-visited island in the Caribbean and that beach hustlers don’t exist there. When taking the course for Barbados travel specialist I was overwhelmed with how much information their tourist board provided. The Jamaica travel specialist course is about one quarter the length of the Barbados course.
When studying Grenada, a tiny little place that no one ever talks about, I was overly impressed with their tourism website which is packed full of great information and hundreds of accommodations on a well-organized and eye-pleasing website.
Those are just a couple of examples that come to mind after being so disappointed in the JTB for so long. It is okay for Jamaica to have a sub-standard tourist information service if the JTB only wants people to fly in, fly out and remember the resort they stayed at. But doesn’t Jamaica want people to be astounded with a travel experience they will never forget?
It is not enough for foreigners to wave the Jamaican flag only because they know who Usain Bolt is or because they love Bob Marley. It is not enough that an overwhelming majority of women revisit only because they have a Jamaican boyfriend. And it is definitely not enough to think the JTB has it all covered just because they promote Sandals resorts. Sandals is a Jamaican corporation but up until last year they didn’t even serve local Jamaican rum!
As TPDCo chairperson, Maxine Henry-Wilson commented on Feb 12 at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, “I also believe that we are aware of the changing nature of the highly competitive global economy and the changing nature of our visitors, who are no longer content with enjoying just sun, sea and sand. They (tourists) are, more than ever, more discerning, more sophisticated, and require higher standards across the board. All of these elements are key components which help to differentiate us from other destinations.”
To put it quite simply, I care how people experience Jamaica and what their impression is when they return home. I feel offended and take it personally when I hear that someone didn’t enjoy themselves in Jamaica, and wonder what I can do to make them give it another chance.
The reason my travel blog is so popular is because people simply can’t find sufficient or accurate information on how to TRULY experience the island, which is why they end up emailing me to ask how to do it. The only information that’s out there is how to book an all-inclusive package and hire overpriced tour guides. Sometimes I feel like my blog (and others like it) have served more as a “meet the people” program than the actual program offered by Jamaica, because of the places I have taken my readers to meet locals and really get to know the culture, outside of the tourist traps.
It shouldn’t be the little people who are so concerned with showcasing what Jamaica has to offer aside from resorts, tourist towns and tourist traps. By little people I’m referring to travel bloggers like me, or one-man tour guide operations who are struggling to make a few dollars.
WHAT IS MISSING?
• Entire chunks of the island are missing from the Visit Jamaica website.
• Customer service and the desire to provide it are also missing from the website.
• Accommodation information that people can really use is missing.
• Any kind of positive vibe at all is missing.
FINALLY, WHAT IS THE PROPOSAL?
I propose to offer myself on a contract basis to get the Visit Jamaica website up to par and make it current and relevant. With my knowledge of Jamaica and the desire to make the website approachable and functional I will do the research, writing and organizing of information that should be on a tourism website. I don’t need to be the technical person behind it but I will offer fresh insight on what it should contain.
I would also love to be the point of contact who actually replies to people at the other end of the “Contact Us” link on the site. This will let people know they are being heard and that their inquiries are taken seriously. It is very disappointing that none of my test inquiries have ever been responded to, as a customer nor a travel agent. I am listed as one of your Jamaica Specialist travel agents on the website but can’t even get a response.
My winter schedule is open and I’m always looking for an excuse to be on the island so if contracted by the JTB I will actually come to Jamaica to conduct some of my research to make sure it is accurate. As a foreigner who lives and breathes Jamaica and devotes myself to selling it, the reason I AM the person for this task is because I am NOT Jamaican. I see it from an outside point of view and notice things that we, as travelers, want to know.
I may not be a representative of the Jamaica Tourist Board but I can guarantee you I’ve experienced Jamaica more intimately and more frequently than many of the Canadian JTB representatives. I attended a travel trade show in my home town of Calgary, Canada and there was a Jamaica booth set up with tourist board representatives to talk to. Neither one of them could answer my questions. I strategically asked questions that every tourist should know but that very few agents actually do know.
I could talk about what’s wrong with the politics behind Jamaica for days but I can’t change a system that doesn’t want to change. Nor can I change the way people think. But I CAN offer my assistance to change the way one big segment of Jamaica appears to the rest of the world. TOURISM – it’s one of your best assets right? Just like Jamaica is one of mine.
With utmost respect,
Kristi A. Keller
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
(Home of the Cool Runnings story!)
Good, bad or indifferent, I would like to hear them all!
I also encourage other revolutionaries to get in touch with me if you feel like helping take over the world.