How safe is it to visit Jamaica? Expert advice

Georgina Wright, Global Threat Analyst for the Americas at Healix International, comments on the risks involved when visiting Jamaica.

Situation report

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.

Primary Risks

Opportunistic Crime
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
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.

Terrorism
There is considered to be a heightened risk of terrorist attacks globally against Western interests from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. There is a low risk of terrorism in Jamaica as there are no known terrorist groups operating in the country. Despite this, it is advisable to remain aware of the worldwide risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks. Targets may include public areas, including those popular with tourists and foreign travellers.

Additional 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.

Healix Advice

Research locations prior to travel. This is necessary for individuals to 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.

Maintain a low profile. 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. 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 accept lifts from strangers and keep car doors and windows locked. Leave valuables at home, or in the safe provided at your accommodation, including your passport, in order to minimise the risks posed to you. When travelling in a vehicle, keep windows closed, doors locked and ensure valuables including handbags are kept out of sight.

Female travellers should be cautious at all times. All tourists should avoid travelling alone at night and should never accept a drink they haven’t seen being made, or opened themselves. Avoid accepting drinks from strangers. Travellers should remain cautious when drinking, even within resorts.

Employ specific itineraries that account for potential natural disasters. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities. In the event of a hurricane, 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.

Avoid all political gatherings. 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.

How Healix can help employers with their duty of care

Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their staff to and that there is a robust travel risk management program in place covering all eventualities. Responsibility for staff overseas should be delegated to specific individuals in accordance with local knowledge and expertise. Alternatively, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, who have dedicated intelligence and operational teams monitoring developments and who maintain a network of local contacts capable to assist in routine secure transport or emergency response. Healix can provide many consultancy services, including scalable ground support services, bespoke evacuation plans or wider reaching travel risk management policies.

What are the health risks in Jamaica?

Contributed by Dr. Simon Worrell, Head of Medical Communications, Healix International.

For those travelling to Jamaica for work or leisure, some precautions will be necessary. Apart from ensuring that your childhood vaccinations are completed, hepatitis A and typhoid immunisations will be required before you travel. As rabies is found in the bat population on the island, it is recommended that those on adventure-style holidays receive the rabies vaccination, but this will not be needed for most visitors to Jamaica. What should be considered, however, is taking an adequate supply of any tablets that you might already be taking. The general level of healthcare provision in Jamaica is well below that found in most Western countries. Should a medical emergency occur whilst you are away, the local facilities will only be able to offer initial treatment: most serious cases are likely to require evacuation to Miami for definitive attention. As this will involve an air ambulance (a jet equipped with medical facilities and staff), it is essential that adequate health insurance is obtained before leaving your home country.

As is common with many destinations, adopting food and water precautions will decrease the risk of being affected with diarrhoeal illnesses. What is perhaps even more important however, is to reduce the chance of being bitten by mosquitos. The Aedes mosquito, present in Jamaica, is able to transmit a range of illnesses, including Zika, dengue fever and the lesser known chikungunya virus. At best all of these diseases can ruin a holiday, but at worst can cause significant complications – some potentially devastating. Wear long sleeved tops and trousers, use air conditioning when available, and spray yourself regularly with a DEET- containing insecticide to reduce the risk of being bitten by local mosquitos. Moreover, as the risk of Zika is on-going, it is still recommended that those pregnant reconsider travelling to Jamaica. Even if only trying for a baby, male partners should ensure that they follow mosquito-bite preventions rigorously as they can potentially pass on the Zika virus to their female partners for several months after returning home. As a final note on precautions, it is worth considering that the HIV rate in Jamaica is considerable: around 30,000 people are said to be infected; only half of them aware of being HIV positive. Indeed, it is said that up to 20% of people in high risk groups on the island might have HIV. Of course, it is most likely that when visiting Jamaica, no medical issues will befall you. But by taking all appropriate precautions when necessary, this is made much more likely.

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