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Craft vendor rage in Ocho Rios

Authorities accused of shepherding cruise visitors to select shops, attractions

BY HORACE MILLS
Observer writer

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Facing allegations of bias, the Ministry of Tourism has declared that it does not ultimately decide which of the designated attractions cruise ship passengers visit when they arrive on the island.

The ministry made the statement yesterday after it was blasted by hundreds of craft vendors in Ocho Rios who threatened to protest in the streets because tour bus operators have not been taking cruise ship visitors to the craft markets.

They claimed that tourists, who arrived on Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Sunrise yesterday, were bussed only to jewellery stores and high-end attractions such as Dunn's River Falls.

“It is like the richer entities are benefiting more than we the local Jamaican people who have been in craft for so many years,” Ocho Rios Craft Market Association President Mossana Martin said. “The craft traders are very unhappy with the situation and they are very outraged, and they are going to do a demonstration if they are not going to get any business from the cruise ships coming in.”

Those sentiments were echoed at the neighbouring Old Ocho Rios Craft Market, where several vendors locked their shops in fury after waiting for hours without seeing any tourists.

The craft vendors told the Jamaica Observer that they came out in their numbers in light of a promise made to them by Joy Roberts, executive director of Jamaica Vacations Limited (an agency in the tourism ministry that is responsible for airlift and cruises).

When contacted, Roberts said her communication to the craft vendors was that they are allowed to accept cruise passengers like other attractions do on the resilient corridors, which were created to encourage safe tourism practices amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But she noted that the tourism ministry cannot guarantee that the tourists will actually patronise the craft markets.

“We have nothing to do with it. The cruise line chooses the attractions that are here and they would have had a certain criteria. They are the ones who choose where they want their passengers to go; it is not us. We have nothing to do with it,” Roberts insisted.

She added that, as part of an effort to have more craft vendors benefit, the tourism ministry had gone as far as to insist that tour operators include a craft market on their itinerary.

“The craft markets have had visits from the cruise passengers in the past. I think there is one market that may not have had any buses so far, and that is unfortunate. But, as I said, it depends on who they were packaged with and whether the passengers took up that option,” Roberts further explained.

She also noted that, in an effort to ensure the craft vendors are not left out, the Port Authority of Jamaica has given them the opportunity to operate on the cruise ship pier.

But the vendors are adamant that the arrangement at the pier is inadequate, adding that hundreds of them will not benefit.

They told the Observer that, based on the arrangement, 15 of them from each craft market are allowed to operate on the pier on a rotation basis each time a ship visits.

“We have 214 shops here inside the Ocho Rios Craft Market and approximately 300 people. If 15 persons leave from our market [to go to the pier when our time comes to operate there], that will not be beneficial to the rest of us who are looking forward to making a living,” Martin said.

She urged Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett to intervene, adding that craft vendors have been shafted on the three occasions that Carnival Sunrise visited Ocho Rios in recent times.

“I am speaking to the minister of tourism and also the prime minister: Please remember your people that we are here and we need a piece of the pie,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the St Ann police told the Observer there was no noticeable movement by Jamaicans in and out of Ocho Rios yesterday.

“We have police presence strategically placed across the area to ensure that whomever is caught breaking the law will be punished,” said deputy superintendent of police in charge of operations in the parish, Kevin Francis.

Some Jamaicans, on hearing of the planned cruise ship visit, had vowed to disobey the no-movement order and travel to the resort town to enjoy the attractions alongside visitors.