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Understanding recent travel advisories to Jamaica and the Bahamas

4 min read
Understanding recent travel advisories to Jamaica and the Bahamas

In response to recent travel advisories and updated warnings about their respective islands, Jamaica and the Bahamas are taking the opportunity to clarify facts and dispel misconceptions for prospective tourists. The U.S. State Department recently issued travel advisories designating Jamaica as “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” and the Bahamas as “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” destinations. These announcements sparked widespread speculation on social media, with playful attributions of the bans to various trends, individuals or locations. Consequently, some travelers reconsidered and canceled their plans, while others were determined not to scrap their upcoming trips.

It is crucial to note that the advisory levels for both countries are no different from the previous year. Jamaica has maintained a Level 3 advisory since 2022, while the Bahamas has remained at Level 2 advisory for years. It is essential to understand that the U.S. Department of State routinely issues travel advisories at the beginning of each year based on reassessments of security and safety. Level 1 and 2 travel advisories undergo a review every 12 months, while Level 3 and 4 travel advisories are reviewed every six months. Therefore, this update aligns with the department’s customary assessment and should not be considered an abnormal occurrence.

Looking at Jamaica first, the updated advisory outlines factors such as crime, home invasions, armed robberies, homicides, and sexual assaults — even within all-inclusive resorts — as common occurrences in Jamaica. It further notes that local law enforcement often responds ineffectively to serious criminal incidents, and U.S. citizens involved in accidents, incidents or homicides may experience delays of a year or more in receiving final death certificates from Jamaican authorities. The government of Jamaica has reported homicide rates consistently ranking among the highest in the Western Hemisphere for several years.

Nevertheless, a point that may have been overlooked is that since last year, violent crimes such as murders have decreased in Jamaica. According to the Jamaica Constabulary Force statistics, the island witnessed 83 murders in the first month of 2024, contrasting with 109 reported in the same period of 2023. Johnson Smith, minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, emphasized in a press release, “We are making serious improvements, although we still have much more to do to achieve all that we wish to deliver. It is not insignificant that Jamaica has recorded a more than 20% decline in serious crimes, along with strong improvements in arrests and prosecution.” The Jamaica Tourist Board also affirmed, “Overall, the crime rate against visitors to Jamaica remains extremely low at 0.01%,” as reported by NPR.

The Bahamas, on the other hand, echoes a similar sentiment in response to the U.S. State Department’s Level 2 advisory, noting that “gang-on-gang violence has resulted in a high homicide rate primarily affecting the local population. Violent crimes, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas.” 

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It is important to clarify that there have been over 24 murders in The Bahamas in the first two months of 2024, all of which have taken place in local and residential areas. In a more recent incident, two Kentucky women visiting Pirates Cove Zipline and Water Park in Freeport as part of a Carnival Cruise excursion accused resort employees of drugging and raping them on February 4th. While arrests have been made in connection to the alleged assault, the case is still ongoing. The resort contends surveillance footage contradicts the women’s account. 

Tourist hotspots employ more than half of the island’s workforce and contribute over 70% of the Bahamas’ gross domestic product. Due to this crucial economic dependence, country officials feel compelled to clarify and dispel misconceptions about travel to the island.

Understanding recent travel advisories to Jamaica and the Bahamas
Courtesy of the Jamaica Tourism Board

To address understandable concerns, both nations are prioritizing the dissemination of public information and taking measures to enhance travel safety. When discussing the impact of the updated travel advisory on Jamaica with the Jamaica Tourism Board, it reassured theGrio, stating: 

“Jamaica is remarkably resilient, which is a testament to the love that so many people have for it. In fact, 2023 was a record year for Jamaica as it attracted more than 4.1 million visitors to the destination — approximately 3 million of which came from the U.S. This beat pre-pandemic 2019 visitation. Jamaica also has a 42% repeat visitor rate — the highest in the Caribbean and likely one of the highest in the world. It’s too soon to say what impact this advisory could have — we certainly hope it will be minimal. But it is important for people to know the facts. For example, this is not a new, raised level of advisory. Jamaica has been at the same level since March 2022, when it was actually lowered after the pandemic. The U.S. State Department routinely issues advisories throughout the year, and has subsequently publicly clarified that no issue spurred this update.”

Jamaica Tourism Board

Courtesy of the Jamaica Tourism Board

When considering a trip to either location — or anywhere in the world — it’s crucial to prioritize safety awareness. The U.S. Department of State recommends refraining from walking or driving at night, avoiding public buses, steering clear of secluded areas, and refraining from physically resisting any robbery attempts in Jamaica. In the Bahamas, it is advisable not to answer the door at your hotel/residence unless you recognize the person, and to avoid physically resisting any robbery attempts. 

Additionally, for all destinations, travelers are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and facilitate locating them in case of an emergency.

Noel Cymone Walker theGrio.com

Noel Cymone Walker is an NYC-based writer specializing in beauty, fashion, music, travel, and cultural anthropology. She has written and produced visuals for several notable publications such as The Recording Academy/The Grammys, The Fader, Billboard, OkayPlayer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Allure, Essence, Ebony, and more.

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