What is Jamaica, the brand? What is the image your mind conjures when you think of Jamaica? Sunny beaches, ganja and guns perhaps? Or, how about laid back work ethic, homophobia or backward banana republic on the brink of civil unrest? Credible words or great misnomers?
An American colleague remarked, "My wife and I have been going to Jamaica now for eight years we just love it."
Then he paused, took a deep breath and said, "But don't you feel as you drive to the compound and see those shanty huts that any minute now they might rise up with machetes!"
This is 'Brand Jamaica"? Is this fear of a black planet or fear of the folklorist bravado that Yaad likes to perpetuate; the bombastic bad bwoy Buccaneer. We know this is the media image of Jamaica, search online and you will be floored by the amount of off-balance reporting and negative reports on gangs and drugs.
During the time of the Dudus drama you would think the whole isle was ablaze with unrest and uncertainty. A time that cost Jamaica dearly. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, street riots took many lives but still Conde Nast placed the city as the Best Place to Visit. Proof that it is perception not reality that reaps the revenue.
Ironically, it's the tourist beach hustlers who understand Brand Jamaica more than anyone. It's a symbiotic relationship; the tourist start with their need for drugs or their yearning for sex and it ends in a toxic trade and an understanding that the more brazen they are the more most tourists will, in intimidation, pay.
They understand that the key factor in revenue for Brand Jamaican spending is entrenched with fear and distrust. They have cleverly capitalized on this with Lotharian tactics that flip on a dime to aggressive hustling and intimidating swagger.
More sluggish to catch on is the Jamaican Tourist Board (JTB). The approach of the JTB is that of a band-aid on a cancer. When your brand image is that of unrest, corruption, danger, drugs and guns, a pretty picture of an exotic beach won't work. More pretty-picture campaigns and a social media push that posts banal "How is your day" messages to the thousands of potential customers.
However, it is clear their strategy is to build up "all inclusive" market (a mainly foreign owned industry). A strategy that shoots the brand in the foot as it fortifies the salient factors that Jamaica is not safe and the locals are not to be trusted.
When there's negative brand connotations the key strategy is to change that perception fast before it spreads. Deflection is a weak tactic when you are up against a media tsunami of negative misinformation.
Identify the main issues as fear and distrust in the brand. Knowledge, perspective and exposure to facts will reinvigorate the lost revenue. Steering revenue to the smaller hotels of Jamaica and encouraging tourists to visit Kingston is key towards the transparent drip of trust. The fact that JTB pretty much ignores the smaller hotels and Kingston again strengthen the fear.
JTB needs to stop herding their social media masses to endless banal clips of reggae artists' videos but post human interest stories of real people in real communities doing great initiatives alongside pretty pictures. Show the cosmopolitan aspects of the people and the culture. Applaud the victories in education, industry and the arts. Bombard people with facts and real perspective.
During the Dudus drama not one major media put out that Tivoli was the size of Sandals resort in a small contained area miles from any tourist area. Huddled masses of foreign journalists descend on the island and relish in the scaremongering.
"A city on the brink of Civil Unrest" I heard last time on CNN. Then there are other media reports like that video report on the Wall Street Journal about returning Jamaicans who come home for retirement but invariably get killed in robberies. Who is managing Brand Jamaica here? Where are the global media watchdogs who protect Brand Jamaica and where are the lobbyist groups who instigate the more truthful real balance in reporting? What litigation surrounds to protect Brand Jamaica when such unbalanced reporting continues?
This re-brand needs to be a cross platform initiative to survive and really reap the potential global revenue. Manufacturers of Jamaica need to protect and promote "Buy Jamaica" to rebuild that trust and knowledge that the country has authority and is worthy of investment. Education should have a component in it to build back the pride the people have in the land and culture and should also tie into the Buy Jamaica ethos.
Politicians need to be mindful of the Brand Jamaica image when they play verbal ping pong throughout each campaign promoting crime stats and the other party's corruption. Jamaica is the only nation in Caricom who prints so grandiosely the crime statistics. Meantime, throughout the rest of the world crime statistics are 're-classified'. What use is this negative branding?
Local media needs too to be held accountable with watchdog monitoring committees. Accountability is key in order to bring back Jamaica the positive brand onto a global stage for revenue potential.
Who is driving this brand and what is their strategy? I think they are asleep at the wheel.
Jane Nina Buchanan