It was the happy ending that friends of the island nation had desired. In an election seen in some quarters as a vote on the question of whether the country would be delivered to Fidel Castro, whether, in fact, there ever would be another free election of any kind, Jamaica had voted itself back from the brink.
Six weeks before the start of the winter tourist-season -- and after eight years of pro-Cuban, anti-American rhetoric by its chief of government and several weeks of political gunfire that had taken 600 lives and left Jamaica's tourist industry critically wounded -- the good guys had won, and by a landslide -- 52 seats in parliament to 8.
The new pro-West, pro-free enterprise party of Edward P. G. Seaga had ousted Michael Manley's left-leaning "democratic socialist" regime. For Jamaica's tourist industry the sunny island suddenly seemed sunnier.
In the first two weeks after the election, Air Jamaica's reservations climbed 17 percent. The island's lines of credit, closed before the election, reopened. Thomson Vacations of Chicago, which earlier had canceled its Jamaican packages, reinstated them and sold 1,000 vacations to Jamaica in just two weeks.
Jamaica's new prime minister became the first foreign chief of state to be invited to the White House after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, a gesture seen here as a sign of the new administration's sensitivity to the problems of Jamaica and the Caribbean.
There was sudden hope of an almost immediate return to Jamaica's idyllic days of old when what then was considered one of the Carribean's most beguiling winter destinations attracted ever-increasing numbers of tourists year after year.
But, alas, as the 1980-81 winter progressed it became obvious there would be no dramatic change, at least not this season. There was no great and continued influx of tourists. Most hotels remained more than half empty.
In fact, there was not much of a change of any kind except that the people smiled more and seemed friendlier and there was no more political violence in the ghettos of far-away Kingston (into which few tourists had ever ventured anyway, but which had frightened many prospective visitors into going to other islands).
After its first winter season following the happy election results, the best that can be said of the current situation is that the isle of Jamaica, all but moribund the last few years, is sitting up now and taking a little nourishment. Since most winter vacationers make resort reservations far in advance, the Oct. 30 election came too late to make a difference in the 1980-81 season.
Continuing a downward trend that began with Manley's reelection in 1976, tourism in 1980 brought into Jamaica the equivalent of $115 million, which, even after years of inflation, as the new tourism minister pointed out, is $20 million less than the $135 million tourism contributed to the nation's economy back in 1974.
Hotel room occupancy throughout the island in January 1981 was 45.4 percent, which commented a hotelier, "must be the lowest figure for any January since the end of World War II." The January 1981 figure represents a decrease of 36 percent from the already disappointing January 1980 hotel occupancy figure of 67.8 percent.
And if January 1981 was bad, those familiar with the overall picture of Jamaican tourism agree, February was worse, and March was "a disaster." For most island hotels, occupancy figures for both February and March also were the lowest in memory. The authoritative newspaper Daily Gleaner reported the entire 1980-81 winter season had been written off as a total loss.
In a recent speech in Montego Bay, Anthony Abrahams, minister of tourism, predicted ti would take about 18 months and at least $70 million for Jamaican hotels to recover from damage done to tourism in the last year, caused principally, he insisted, by television and newspaper coverage of preelection violence.
Although the political disorders and gun battles were confined to the ghettos of Kingston, across the island and far removed from the popular tourist enclaves of Jamaica's north shore -- Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay, Port Antonio -- the effect on tourism was devastating.
Government-owned hotels alone, Abrahams said, will need about $56 million to get back on their feet. The government owns or has a majority interest in 14 Jamaican hotels containing about half the island's hotel rooms, all taken over by Manley's left-leaning government in the mid- and late-'70s when their former owners ran into financial trouble.
Six of the 14 are managed by private interests under contract. The other eight, including six of the island's largest and best known tourist hotels, are owned, operated and marketed by the government -- Hotel Inter-Continental Ocho Rios (357 rooms) and Mallards Beach-Hyatt (397), both in Ocho Rios; Trelawney Beach Club (350), Falmouth; Casa Montego (129) and the Royal Caribbean (168), at Montego Bay; Negril Beach Village (250), at Negril; and, catering to business people, the New Kingston (200) and Inter-Continental Kingston (111), both in the capital, rarely visited by tourists these days.
To prepare for the 1981-82 winter tourist season, which the island hopes will be a bumper one after the worst in recent memory, the Seaga administration also is preparing to launch an aggressive marketing and advertising offensive to bring back the tourists. The campaign, expected to cost as much as $12 million, is built around the sloga "Make It Jamaica Again." The wording is an unspoken admission that many vacationers who used to come here year after year have put down Jamaica as a place they never expected to see again.
It wasn't that the promotion of tourism had been neglected. Even under the Manley administration, the tourism business was a high-priority item strongly promoted and encouraged by the government -- for the very good reason that the nation's economy is based almost solely on the mining of bauxite (the principal ore of aluminum) and tourism.
And it wasn't because of a shortage of food due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Restaurants fare in the big hotels often may be pedestrian, but the ingredients for preparing it are plentiful. As Jamaica's biggest innkeeper, the Manley government had seen to it that all tourist facilities were so well stocked with provisions that visitors would be unaware of the deprivation that afflicts so much of the native population
But the main reason for the big drop in tourism over the last few years, most tour operators and travel agents agree, was simply that many Americans in the market for a Jamaican vacation just got tired of hearing and reaching about Jamaica's left-leaning leader praising Cuba and running down the United States.
Another reason, the result of the same speechmaking, was a noticeable change in the attitude of the Jamaican people toward Americans. On several trips in recent years the difference was noticeable to this traveler while going through customs, on the streets, in the stores, and, in some cases, even in restaurants and hotels.
Those who had come to Jamaica on vacation in the '60s and early '70s had pleasant memories of friendly, helpful, smiling Jamaicans who seemed to want to please (and those gracious smiles were not accompanied by outstretched palms). But when the same travelers returned in the late 1970s and through most of 1980 they quickly became aware that many of those once-friendly Jamaicans had changed. In the late '70s there were tourist complaints of Jamaican indifference, surliness, even downright rudeness.
"Our people were confused," explained a government official. "They were fed a daily diet of rhetoric that was un-American, and it raised in their minds some sort of suspicion [of Americans]."
One of the first acts of the new government was to direct a campaign at the Jamaican people, asking them to smile again and be friendly to Americans and other tourists, stressing the importance of tourism in creating jobs and pointing out that if Jamaica is to achieve a better economic position, tourism has to be the first industry to take off. An attitudinal training program for persons who come in contact with tourists also was carried out.
A big signboard near the Montego Bay airport reads: "Tourism Time Now! Show our guests great hospitality."
There is evidence the campaign has worked. It wasn't difficult. Though basically shy and reserved, by nature Jamaicans are warm and friendly -- the West Indians at their best.
Today in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay, Negril, and other areas frequented by tourists, it's difficult to find anyone unpleasant among service personnel in hotels, restaurants and shops, or on the streets.
There seems to be a new attitude all around, starting with smiling customs officers, who now take the time to wish visitors a pleasant stay. Treatment everywhere is friendly, perhaps lacking in efficiency at times but still friendly. What inefficiency and indifference the tourist does find is due to a shortage of trained personnel and the bureaucracy that results from any government-operated enterprise.