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Released June 16, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- Research conducted by business students participating in The University of Southern Mississippi's Caribbean Studies program last month could help the Jamaican government shape its tourism policies.

Sixteen undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Business and Economic Development spent more than two weeks in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, interacting with locals and studying the attitudes of tourists and business people.

In one project, students interviewed local restaurant managers, artisans and market owners to gauge their opinion on the impact of "all-inclusive" tourist resorts on the local economy. In the other, students surveyed the level of commercial harassment experienced by cruise ship passengers during shopping expeditions in Ocho Rios. When completed, the findings of these studies will be presented to the Board of Tourism in Kingston.

"Jamaicans have a reputation for harassing tourists on the streets, trying to get them to buy things, and to a large extent, that's justified," said marketing professor Dr. Tony Henthorne, who just completed his 62nd trip to Jamaica. "We wanted to see if that was a global perception, and to see if there was a correlation between the level of harassment felt by tourists and the money they spent shopping there."

MBA candidate Katie Pounders said many of the cruise ship passengers she interviewed felt so harassed while on shore leave that they were eager to get back to their docked ships. "People who have gone on cruises before are used to it, but a lot of people who are (employed) in the tourism industry for the summer are not used to it," Pounders said.

A side trip to Kingston, the country's capital and financial hub, allowed students to visit the national stock exchange and the Bank of Jamaica, similar to the United States' Federal Reserve. Business students also met with the director of human resources for Sandals Resorts, which operates 11 ultra-inclusive luxury resorts in the Caribbean, including six in Jamaica. Sandals, a Jamaican-owned company, mostly hires locals for jobs that pay well above the wages earned in typical Jamaican towns, where the per capita income is about $3,000 U.S. dollars.

Henthorne said, "The locals who work at these all-inclusive resorts are highly trained. Jamaicans have done a very good job promoting the industry. In fact, there are billboards around the country saying, 'Be nice to our guests. Remember who's paying your bills.'"

The Caribbean Studies program offers a unique opportunity for business students, Henthorne said. "Jamaica is like any developing world country, but because they speak English, it makes it easier to interact," he said. "Plus the beaches make it easy to recruit students."

Of course, the trip wasn't all research and studying, Pounders said. During their free time, students lounged next to crystal clear oceans, climbed waterfalls, shopped and dined. There was, Henthorne added, an occasional adventure or two.

Returning to Ocho Rios from their trip to Kingston, the business students learned the road connecting the two cities was closed. So on the return journey, what had originally been a smooth two-hour trip became a five-hour scenic tour through the back roads and hillsides of Jamaica. "We got to go over and through places most tourists never see," Henthorne said.

Program-wide, 74 people participated in the Caribbean Studies program, which began in 1985. Students in social work, psychology, criminal justice and community health also made the trip to Jamaica from May 17-June 2.

For more information about the Caribbean Studies program and other international study abroad programs offered through Southern Miss, contact the Center for International and Continuing Education at (601) 266-4344.


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June 21, 2004 1:34 PM