A ten day trip to Rio, whose prime purpose was to enjoy the atmosphere of World Cup football, is no fact finding tour. But, I’ve had to look at socioeconomic developments and try to assess them quickly for most of my working life. So, let me use that experience to share some observations that could help Jamaica move ahead. They are not in any special order.
Tourists need to be left to enjoy their visits and feel safe. Arriving in Rio, the biggest problem is figuring out where to collect baggage; the claim areas are split, either side of duty free shopping. Once done, passing Customs is simple, with basically no stop. Admittedly, Jamaica has been tagged as a drug haven, so we need stiffer checks to protect ourselves from those who want to try some simple drug running, as part of organized operations or just to get some extra dosh. That hurts our tourism badly, and maybe the only way out is some brutal sentencing, including near immediate deportation. The idea of airport courts seems radical but, it may be what’s needed to frighten the daylights out of the casual wrongdoers. Admittedly, tourists arriving at Montego Bay tend to have lghr checks than arrivals at Kingston, most of whom are residents. That, naturally, sets up resentment from locals. But, evenhandedness is something with hitch Jamaica struggles.
Once on land, tourists in Rio see plenty of signs that security is ready to deal with all problems.
Municipal and national guards were everywhere in uniform Rio. It was likely that some of the road sweepers or other tourist workers were undercover operatives. They were on hand, visible, and clearly ready. I have no idea at what cost. But, no one wants to robbed or mugged on the street when just trying to enjoy sun, sand, and sea.
We read stories about how favelas and streets had been cleared of vagrants. News reports yesterday mentioned how protesters had been picked up ahead of the final and that 25,000 security personnel had been added to deal with potential protests at the final. Rio is in a very difficult position, so extreme measures are no surprise. But, in the end, the naive or educated visitor wants to come and go safely, and leave a country to sort out its internal strife.
Like Jamaica, Rio has its vendors. They work the beach strips, selling on the beach, trinkets, drinks and snacks. On the roadside, little cafes and juice bars are dotted around. Massage services are there, too, on the beach. Most vendors take no straight away. Pestering in not common. I did not see if vendors were licensed. But, they went on walking the beach. Most beach visitors just went about their recreation. No one offering them drugs. They could get drinks if they wanted, or play or doze, if not.
I’ve barely seen any police at Jamaican resorts, by contrast. Maybe, they are all under cover. But, we have reports of petty or more serious crimes against tourists. Each incident is a blight, and becomes amplified as a negative story when people get back home. Most people have positive images of Jamaica before they visit. The taxi driver who loves “Bobby Marley” is typical. We need to harness that.
Taxis should be safe and trustworthy . Most visitors do not know their way around a foreign country. They often think they are easy targets for exploitation. So, one way of allaying those fears for the benefit of all is for the popular form of transport from point to point, the taxi, be a reliable service. Rio has a lot of taxis, but they never seemed enough.
Perhaps, the arrival of all those football fans was the reason for seeming excess demand. However hard it was to get a taxi, each one tended to give the same experience. The driver was licensed: the vehicle had the driver’s badge clearly visible. The vehicle was metered. The cost was clear, and drivers did not haggle over the small number, eg R$11.30 was R$11. The driver wore a belt and each seat had a belt. (One driver, seeing my 10 year old daughter was in difficulty strapping in, stopped to free the belt, which had gotten trapped under the seat. Attentive and courteous.) If uncertain of destination, drivers quickly tried to verify directions by using on board GPS, or checking with another driver. Vehicles were NEVER overloaded: no space, no rider. No exceptions. Naturally, in this age of widespread smartphone use, some drivers tried to stay abreast of social activities. One driver was constantly checking and sending voice messages,though he limited this to when stopped at traffic lights. One driver was one the phone to an acquaintance, but still drove carefully.
We took at least two taxis each day and never saw one accident–at all. Rio has six million people and an area half that of Jamaica. Admittedly, road conditions are far better in a Rio, with several four-lane freeways through the city.
Pedestrians do not have priority, so that would tend to create more problems, but none were evident.
If visitors feel safe travelling around a strange place, day or night, they are likely to venture out more and further. That tends to mean more spending. We are experienced travelers and have a friend who had lived in Brazil and spoke Portuguese. But, those aspects did not feature much in routine travel. We tried our luck on the streets, often needing two taxis, which did not arrive simultaneously. We never ended up at different places; we sometimes had a long wait to meet up again. We were not really worried. We did some research and ventured out on ferry boats, too. No mishaps. Drivers also gave good advice about when to travel and better routes.
My understanding is that the government did not mount any special campaigns. But, perhaps, the trade associations got members to buy into supporting the events with positive attitudes. Or, people have understood what is good for business.
Free Wifi internet access needs to be widely available. Most traveller know about the high cost of roaming charges, so shy away from making local telephone connections. However, they will do their best to keep in touch with friends, families, and colleagues through email, text messages, including via Whatsapp, and social media sites. You only need to go anywhere with free wifi to see the clusters of communicators. Rio offered free wifi to those who were already subscribers to local telephone services. But, many bars, restaurants, and shopping areas had free wifi. Even some hillside slums, favelas, had free wifi networks.
Brazil has benefited from extensive infrastructure investment connected to major international events. Again, the pay off comes through the easy experience visitors have.
Litter is a major turn off. In Rio, garbage disposal was constant. Large bins on the sidewalk, plus cleaners walking the beach strips and streets. Of course, people are dirty, but it need not swamp everyone or everywhere. We saw plenty of garbage in a favela. Bottles and cans get used as missiles. Likewise, roads that need repair trap trash as well as people. The impression left was that Rio was clean, even if sour-smelling. That’s an observation, not a criticism. Big cities have their odour.
Finally, Rio celebrates its street art. Downtown Kingston has recently had much of its murals removed from ghetto areas. The rationale was that this glorified local criminals. Whatever the truth of that, the murals are important local expression. By contract, Rio promotes such art.
Admittedly, a recent government initiative has sought to regularize favela life, and accepting murals adds to the sense of ownership. Heavyhandedness is often not needed, once respect has been shown by those in formal authority.