Jamaica National Park attracts more visitors since listing
Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust Executive Director Dr Susan Otuokon points to the Blue Mountain Yacca tree in Holywell. This tree is endemic to the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which is a World Heritage Site. Photo: JIS
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica has seen an increase in visitor numbers following the inscription of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park on the United Nations Educational, Scientific Organization’s World Heritage List and culture (UNESCO).
Inscribed on July 3, 2015, the 26,000 hectare park was the first to put Jamaica on the world heritage stage.
One of 32 “mixed” World Heritage sites, and the first of its kind in the Caribbean, it has joined a list of other historic sites, such as the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the India’s Taj Mahal, the Gros Pitons in Saint Lucia and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Heritage status is granted to sites around the world that are considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) for present and future generations.
Managed by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), a non-governmental organization and registered charity, the national park is home to unique birds, frogs, the Homerus Swallowtail butterfly, the Jamaican coney and four of the six snakes endemic to the Jamaica.
It is located at the eastern end of Jamaica and spans sections of the parishes of St Andrew, St Thomas, Portland and a small part of southeast St Mary.
JCDT executive director Dr Susan Otuokon said the listing had helped boost tourist numbers at the park’s main recreation sites, Holywell and the Blue Mountain Peak Trail and Portland Gap.
“We have also seen increased interest in visiting the park, especially from overseas visitors. We get a lot of emails with questions because people see the site being promoted on World Heritage media,” she said, adding that the JCDT is working to attract more foreign visitors.
While acknowledging the challenges of accessing mountainous areas, Dr Otuokon said there is a “special type of visitor” who is not afraid to reach places.
“There is a particular type of visitor who is interested in World Heritage, who is willing to travel long distances and use more robust and luxurious accommodations and means of transport to get to these very special places,” said she declared.
“We plan to tap into this market,” she continued, noting that the listing has improved the visibility and promotion of the park.
Dr Otuokon said that UNESCO has a very strong and globally recognized World Heritage website, as well as associated and other social media, which do a really good job of promoting the sites that have been inscribed.
“So at least once a year they call and ask for photos, videos and information that they can share on their websites and associated websites,” she added.
Dr Otuokon pointed out that visitor numbers had dropped for a time due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent closure of the site. However, she said visitors keep coming back because people have realized the spread of COVID-19 is less likely to happen outdoors than indoors.
Apart from the 15-20% revenue from recreational tourism activities, the chief executive said that the JCDT receives a small amount of funding from the government since heritage status, to manage the park.
“In fact, what the World Heritage Committee is saying to the government is that it must take responsibility to protect these special sites on behalf of the whole world,” added Dr Otuokon.
Grand Ridge of the Blue Mountains. Photo: JIS
She clarified that although UNESCO recognizes the site, no financial contribution accompanies the inscription. However, she noted that due to global recognition, the government and the JCDT have a better chance of receiving funding from UNESCO and other local and multilateral foundations.
“When we apply for funding from the various foundations because of our status as a World Heritage Site, it gets more attention and there is more credibility in terms of the significance of the site and the importance of preserving the cultural and natural heritage associated with it,” noted Dr. Otuokon.
Reggae music has become the second element to be inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This style of music, born in Jamaica in the late 1960s, is now known around the world.
The Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, Olivia Grange, who led the Reggae Music listing held in Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius in 2018, was delighted after the announcement.
“It shows the popularity of Reggae music around the world and the captivating influence of the Jamaican art form,” she said in an interview.
The Maroons of Moore Town in Portland, which received World Heritage recognition in 2008, live in the community buffer zone outside the national park.
“We used to bring visitors to the area, but since listing, more and more visitors are coming. More people want to interact with the land, more people want to meet the people, and more people want to see all the attractions we have in the valley,” said Moore Town Maroon Colonel Wallace Sterling.
Sterling said some people still don’t realize the “huge impact the heritage designation has had on the people of the Valley”.
“We end up having more visitors. It is up to us to ensure that we continue to protect this appellation. The worst thing that can happen to us as a people is for them to write us off or unsubscribe; it would be a disaster. So we have to make sure that we continue to maintain the site in a pristine way,” he said.
In addition to World Heritage recognition, Jamaica has served on several intergovernmental committees over the years. These included the Executive Board of UNESCO during the period 1970-1976.
Jamaica’s mandate covered the following periods: 1974-1976; 1980-1981; 1981-1985; 1991-1995, 2001-2005 and 2007-2009, which allowed the country to participate in 51 sessions, both as president and representative, according to the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports. The most recent term was for 2018-2021, led by Minister Grange as Jamaica’s representative.
Within the Governing Body, Jamaica served on four committees, including the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which was chaired by Minister Grange.
Currently, the country sits on the intergovernmental committees of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This concerns the periods 2018-2022 and 2021-2025, respectively.
Additionally, Jamaica served on the World Heritage Committee from 2014 to 2017 and resubmitted its nomination for 2023 for four years.
Jamaica is a signatory to four UNESCO cultural conventions, including the 2011 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Efforts are being made by the government for the inscription of Port Royal on the World Heritage List, similar to that made for the Reggae inscription.
Port Royal, a town at the end of the Palisadoes Strip in Kingston and a former home of pirates in the 17th century, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since February 2009.
The World Heritage nomination of the sunken city of Port Royal was submitted in 2018. According to the ministry, the nomination file was evaluated in 2018 and was treated by the World Heritage Committee in 2019 during its 43rd session, this which led to a postponement of the case. .
“The postponement was thoroughly reviewed in 2020 by the technical team of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust with the intention of reassessing and resubmitting a new nomination,” according to the ministry.