- They repeated time after time, “Bolt”, almost with reverence
- The name Usain Bolt, the Jamaican colours and the national symbols are instantly recognizable
- Name recognition has incredible potential for Jamaican tourism
For a few brief hours, businessman Hugh Graham of Paramount Chemicals knew what it felt like to be an international celebrity.
Mr. Graham, who was one of several businessmen accompanying Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller on her recent visit to Beijing, China, found himself surrounded by quite a large group of friendly Chinese, in the middle of Tiananmen Square, who simply wanted to take a picture with him dressed in his black, green and gold Jamaican shirt.
There was no language barrier as they repeated time after time, “Bolt”, almost with reverence. Soon a long line was formed as repeatedly he patiently posed for photographs. Noticing the line getting longer and starting to feel tired, he made good his escape.
“That was a real good feeling, a real moment of feeling proud to be a Jamaican and a deep respect and understanding of what people like Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser (Pryce) did when they came to Beijing in 2008,” Mr. Graham said, a few days later in an interview with JIS News.
From the Chinese capital of Beijing to the busy metropolis of Shanghai and right across the world’s most populous country, the name Usain Bolt, the Jamaican colours and the national symbols are instantly recognizable.
This was confirmed by Mayor of Shanghai, Mr. Yang Xiong, who informed the Prime Minister on her official visit to his city on August 24, that “Jamaica is actually a very familiar name to the Shanghai people because of two things, coffee and sprint athlete Bolt.”
Businessman and Chairman, Jamaica Fire Brigade, Jalil Dabdoub, believes this name recognition has incredible potential for Jamaican tourism. “Just the fact that we are from Jamaica, it is almost like we are celebrities immediately. We are treated at a much higher level than you would normally see and I have been coming here for 25 years and I have seen the changes ever since Bolt won the (2008) Olympics,” he said.
Mr. Dabodoub, who was with Mr. Graham during his trip to Tiananmen Square, believes the time is ripe for Chinese investment in tourism as well as the aggressive promotion of Jamaica as a destination for the thousands of Chinese who travel abroad each year.
It is a view shared by Jamaica’s Ambassador to China, His Excellency Ralph Thomas. Both men however, point to one main barrier, the current visa restriction.
“When the people came to us about tourism, they were saying that the difficulty that they had in terms of getting visa to get to Jamaica was one of the things that have been holding them back and I think that once that goes, once that opens up, we are going to see a lot of other areas (open up) with it,” Mr. Dabdoub said.
Ambassador Thomas explains that with the Jamaican Embassy located in Beijing, the country’s capital, it can be quite expensive and time consuming for residents in other cities to acquire a visa to the island.
He supports the call for the removal of visa requirements. “My view of it is that visa abolition is something that could cause many visitors to come to Jamaica,” said Ambassador Thomas.
He further points out that with the rise of personal incomes in China, more persons are travelling to far destinations, are staying longer and spending more. Currently, Jamaica receives less than one per cent of its visitors from China.
The Ambassador may get his wish. On the final day of her trip to China, the Prime Minister informed that the Government will be revisiting the visa issue. “When we get back to Jamaica, working with your Ambassador to Jamaica, and our Ambassador to China, we are going to be looking at the whole question of the visa situation, so that Jamaica will be able to welcome more Chinese visitors,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said in a meeting with the Shanghai Mayor.
She pointed out that with the number of Chinese visiting other countries, “there is no reason that with our strong history and bond of friendship, Chinese visitors should not be visiting Jamaica as well.”
According to Mayor Yang, in the Caribbean, Jamaica falls second to neighbouring Cuba in terms of visitor arrivals from China.
Statistics show that in 2012 the number of outbound Chinese tourists was some 83,182,700, up 18.41 per cent when compared with 2011. They mostly visit the United States of America, Russia, France, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Maldives.