Will travel insurance cover vacations cancelled or disrupted by the kind of violence that recently erupted in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston? That depends on what kind of insurance you bought and when you bought it. And should you avoid travel to Jamaica in the coming months? Read on.
Though life in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston is returning somewhat to normal after a week of horrendous violence in which more than 60 people were killed—most caught in the crossfire between defense forces and drug gangs—do not anticipate travelling anywhere to Jamaica this coming summer or winter seasons without trip cancellation or interruption insurance. Not all insurance policies have trip cancellation benefits. Make sure yours does.
The siege of downtown Kingston, in which police and military forces sought to capture and extradite drug kingpin Dudus Coke, was unsuccessful. Coke is still at large and his and other competing drug gangs continue to exert their influence over all aspects of life in this beautiful, but embattled island nation.
So far, the north shore resort areas of Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and others have not been directly affected by the carnage on the south shore, but tensions are high. You’d best stay close to your hotel while on your vacation and be careful about what tours you take and where you travel offsite. To date, the governments of Canada, the UK, and the United States have urged tourists to Avoid Non-Essential Travel to the Kingston area, and have issued Exercise Extreme Caution warnings for those in the remainder of Jamaica. These are two different warning levels, Avoid Non-Essential Travel being the more serious.
What this means in practical terms is that if you book prepaid travel to the Kingston area after the government has issued a warning to Avoid Non-Essential Travel, you will likely not be covered by your trip cancellation or interruption benefits and your insurer will not cover your deposit or prepayment. Neither will you be covered for emergency medical benefits if you get caught in the crossfire or are otherwise injured as a result of violence in the area. If you buy your trip before the government warning is posted, you will be eligible for reimbursement of the prepaid, non-reimbursable portion of your trip, according to the copayment fine print in your policy. But read this part of your policy. You don’t always get back 100 per cent of your investment.
If the government issues only the lower-grade Exercise Extreme Caution warning to your specific area of travel, you will be eligible for reimbursement according to the terms set out in the fine print of your policy. Again, read those terms; they vary a lot between policies.
Jamaica is a beautiful island with a rich history and cultural legacy. It is my favourite of the Caribbean islands and it is more than just a sandy spot in the ocean where you can get a tan. It is a country that deserves to be tasted and explored. But it is also a complex country with a great deal of poverty, political antagonisms, and crime, where you need to be careful of your surroundings and carry around a double dose of common sense.
Between November 2009 and January 2010, more than 100,000 Canadians vacationed in Jamaica—mostly at its north shore resorts—almost 10 per cent more than during the same period the previous year. Over the same period, Canadian tourism to Cuba and the Dominican Republic dropped substantially. How the current news about the carnage in Kingston affects travel to Jamaica over the next year is anybody’s guess. It’s an unknown.
But what is dead certain is that you need to pay attention to government advisories on travel—not only to Jamaica but to so many locations around the world. And you need to pack trip cancellation insurance along with your medical emergency insurance and your passport. It’s just not negotiable any more.