Jamaica Cracks Down on Tourist-Hounders

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OCHO RIOS, Jamaica -- The Jamaican government voted to dramatically increase fines on people who harass tourists by soliciting sex and aggressively peddling souvenirs.

The increases are expected to take effect by fall, Karen Ford-Warner, director general for tourism in the Office of the Prime Minister, said at the Jamaica Product Exchange (Japex) here.

According to a 1997 survey by the Jamaica Tourist Board, 56% of visitors said they had been harassed in Jamaica. Of those, nearly 13% said harassment spoiled their trips; 60% said they had been asked to buy drugs and 12% said they had been approached for sex.

The ceiling on fines will increase from $571 to $2,857 for crimes that include prostitution, the use of abusive or threatening language, loitering and indecent exposure, she said. In addition to being fined, those convicted also can be sentenced to prison for up to two years.

Fines for unlicensed vending in tourist areas also will increase, from $29 for a first offense to $2,857, and penalties for repeat offenders will increase from $43 to $4,286, Ford-Warner said.

Such solicitation, or "dollar dealing," applies to unwanted hair-braiders and solicitors of unlicensed water sports, sightseeing, special events and rafting operators, and to car rental firms, she said.

The provision also calls for extending night court hours in resort areas, Ford-Warner said.

Also at Japex, Fay Pickersgill, Jamaica's director of tourism, said the tourism board will roll out a program this fall to educate students about the value of tourism to the country, and the roles citizens can play in its further development.

The ministry of tourism also said it would create centers for craft-sellers, designed to make them less likely to harass vacationers at resort areas.

The ministry said it will dedicate $1.1 million this year to develop villages in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril and Port Antonio.

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