I joined the Travel Foundation at the start of 2017 to manage our work in Jamaica, and have just returned from my first trip to the island. The past couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the research and project work that’s so far taken place in Montego Bay, and building relationships with all those involved, so I was really excited to visit Montego Bay for the first time, meet Coral, our Jamaica Programme Co-ordinator, and see everything for myself.
Montego Bay is a resort area with a lot of large hotels on the outskirts, a port which sees numerous large cruise ships on a weekly basis, and downtown area that, so it seems, is often overlooked by visitors. Our programme of work in Montego Bay is about getting people out and about, enjoying the local area, and spreading the economic benefits of tourism to the local community. I was keen to see first-hand why this wasn’t already happening.
Having read tourist opinions of Montego Bay craft market, both from our research and online, I was expecting a dark, unappealing market area where I would feel under pressure to buy. I could not have been more wrong.
My first impressions of the market were of a bright, colourful space with rows of brightly coloured wooden huts and smiling owners. ‘Come take a look – no pressure to buy’ seemed to be the market catchphrase, but also felt like a genuine offer. I was more than pleasantly surprised during my mystery shopper trip. Harbour Street Craft Market had definitely exceeded my expectations, and I was looking forward to meeting everyone with my ‘work hat’ on.
Later on in my trip I returned to the market to introduce myself to the traders and gather feedback on the training that has so far taken place (you can read about our train-the-trainer course with trainers from TPDCO here). Feedback was positive, with many of the stallholders feeling empowered to develop their products and business. We’re in the process of collecting data to assess the success of the training, so I look forward to sharing that soon.
All good news, but we need still need to tackle a big issue – increasing footfall downtown. Headway has already been made, we developed an Insider Guide, and a map with Jamaica Tourist Board which is being distributed by several large hotels to their guests. After all, if visitors don’t know what’s on offer in the area, they’re not likely to explore. I was encouraged to see tourists wondering along the ‘hip strip’, but there is more work to be done. I want all visitors to get a good first impression of Montego Bay, not just their hotel, and this sentiment will shape our Jamaica programme for the next few years.