The nation's tourism industry stands to lose more than $100 million without emergency repairs to the damage Hurricane Gilbert did to the island's reputation as a tourist mecca, officials said.
They expressed their worries last weekend after Prime Minister Edward Seaga announced Friday that his government is preparing a huge advertising campaign to convince foreign tourists that Jamaica is ready to welcome them again.Government officials acknowledge that the storm, the most intense on record, devastated much of this Caribbean island nation when it barreled through on Sept. 12. They say tons of food, medicine and other supplies are pouring in but much more is needed to feed and shelter tens of thousands left homeless by the storm.
But damage to Jamaica's tourist areas was limited, officials said.
Peter Rousseau, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, said the country suffered more damage to its reputation as a tourist haven than it did to its facilities.
"It's only about seven properties that have been damaged," he said. "What has been hurt is the perception of Jamaica."
He said the island must counter its new reputation as a disaster area, turn the overall tourist trade back on and attract as much of the vital U.S. Midwest market as possible.
Association members have prepared their own advertising blitzes and promotions abroad.
Hugh Hart, minister of Mining, Energy and Tourism, said Gilbert wreaked havoc over the island and parts of the economy were badly damaged. Some industries, including tourism, suffered only slight damage. The tourist industry sustained about $45 million damage to hotel roofs and windows, but 85 percent of hotels are back in operation, the Jamaica Tourism Board reported. It said business could return to normal by the end of the month.
However, tourism officials said the industry could lose up to $130 million without quick action.
"Right after Gilbert, we had more cancellations than we wanted and not as many bookings," Hart said. "Now, it's started to level off and things seem to be going the other way."
Jamaica earned $600 million from stopover visitors in 1987, and it was expected to earn about the same this year. However, Gilbert forced a reduction in the target figure of 170,000 visitors for the last four months of 1988.