The Jamaican tourism authorities are concerned about the illegal rafting taking place on the White River, located on the border of St. Ann and St. Mary. This illicit activity has angered the operators of White River Calypso Rafting and Tubing, who are fully licensed to operate. Authorities are working to stop illegal rafting and protect the legitimate businesses in the area.
Robert Marsh, the owner of White River Calypso Rafting and Tubing, has called what is being allowed to happen a total disgrace and warns that it could lead to the downfall of tourism in the area.
“I hope we can all recall when we allowed illegal jet ski operators to run roughshod over the tourism industry and which eventually led to tourist fatalities. Well, guess what, the same thing is happening here on the White River where there are illegal rafters, who cannot even swim, taking tourists down the river,” Marsh said. “There have been near misses, but heaven forbid if somebody dies or something bad happens. How will we respond as a nation?”
Replying to Marsh’s concerns, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) has said that it knows of the unauthorized rafting and has been holding meetings with those involved to get them to stop. Marine police routinely monitor the river, and TCPDCo is working with the Jamaica Constabulary Force to enforce the River Rafting Act and JTB act.
In an email sent by TCPDCo, they laid out several steps being taken to address this issue as follows:
- The ministry of tourism is currently drafting a watersports policy which will be put before Cabinet soon.
- Designated personnel have been given responsibility for overseeing the area. Signs will be posted in areas where illegal activity has been taking place.
- Letters will also be sent to ground transportation operators warning them of sanctions if they are caught taking guests to participate in these activities.
- All licensed rafts will be clearly marked to differentiate them from illegal ones.
Marsh remains skeptical. A former Jamaica Labor Party Member himself, Marsh spoke of another councilor telling him that he is only one vote, insinuating that keeping votes coming in was more important than doing the right thing. Marsh said that he has written to Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, The TCPDCo, and other relevant bodies. He states that he has not received a response. He worries that the authorities will wait too long to act, resulting in accidents like the jet ski fatalities from a similar situation in previous years.
Aside from the potential dangers of unlicensed raft operations, Marsh also pointed out that it is unfair to him and other legal operators. “These operators are unregulated and have zero by way of public liability insurance…yet they are taking hotel and cruise passengers down the White River…undercutting me who has been playing by the rules,” said Marsh.
Marsh does not think that hotel owners and cruise lines are aware of the illicit activities. He does not believe that they would knowingly allow their patrons to participate in a clearly dangerous activity. According to Marsh, it makes no sense that one of the essential industries in the nation, tourism, is allowed to be put in danger by illegal operators. If authorities continue to ignore the danger, it could negatively influence the tourism sector and, therefore, the country. “Tourism has been through a lot over the past two years and is only just now making a comeback,” said Marsh.
Mr. Marsh has been in business for almost 40 years and does not recall a time when there was such blatant disregard for the law. He argues that there should either be rules for everyone or rules for no one and that it cannot be both ways. His hope is that the authorities will begin to enforce the operations on the river in order to protect the guests, the operators, and the country.
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