Site logo

Informal operators flood White River

Concerns over the “explosion” of informal activities at the White River attraction just outside Ocho Rios, St Ann, has prompted tourism officials to conduct a maximum capacity study aimed at reducing the load on the river.

“For some time now, there have been questions about informal operators doing business on the White River in St Ann,” said Senior Adviser & Strategist in the Ministry of Tourism, Delano Seiveright.

Currently, there are least 10 different operations on the White River. But only three are licensed with the River Rafting Authority and the Jamaica Tourist Board, according to state agency Tourism Product Development Company Limited, TPDCo, in its initial assessment. TPDCo plans to hire consultants to conduct a recreational and commercial carrying capacity study. Bids close on February 27.

“As soon as tenders have been evaluated and a contractor selected the study will begin. It will guide the organisation in how it deals with the matter in the future,” Seiveright said.

The strategist added that the completion of the carrying capacity study will guide the River Rafting Authority in its determination of licences for commercial recreational activities on the White River and its tributaries.

It will not necessarily result in formalising the operations of rafters and vendors, he noted. But it will guide the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and other relevant agencies in their review of applications regarding approvals for commercial activity, and also inform the preparation of zoning and management plans for the river.

White River is located on the border of St Ann and St Mary. TPDCo acknowledges that the river has provided a livelihood for fisherfolk for decades. It, however, noted that increased demand for tours for cruise ship and other visitors has fuelled informal commercial activity on the White River.

“This public interest in starting commercial activities on the river has contributed to an explosion of unlicensed activities,” said TPDCo in the tender document. “The increase in activities on the White River has raised concerns for the carrying capacity and the overall ecological impact. With this in mind, the tourism stakeholders have recommended that a carrying capacity study be carried out on the White River to define a balance between maintaining ecological function and use of the river.”

The travel and tourism sector was heavily hit by measures to stem the spread of COVID-19. It led to a temporary shutdown of hotels and attractions. The closure of formalised tours created a space that informal operators filled at various locations across the island.

Several travellers post reviews on the attraction through the large travel booking site Tripadvisor. The reviews are general rather than specific to a provider of service in the area. Overall, the river attraction received 1,026 reviews with an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5. Most of the reviews were positive, reflecting the official narrative of “stunning views” and historic landmarks.

“The clarity of the water at White River Valley and the consistency of the river flow make it stand out above other locations on the island,” according to the official blurb on Tripadvisor.

There are, however, 20 reviews that are 2-stars or less. The below-average reviews shift in nature before and after the onset of the 2020 pandemic. Before the onset of the pandemic, 2-star reviews made subjective assessments of the rafting experience: It was too short, or too slow for adventure seekers, or too expensive. Since the onset of the pandemic, the 2-star reviews have centred on the informality, trash and water quality.

“It definitely looks nothing like how it is on Instagram and TikTok,” said ‘Ley G’ from Washington in a 2-star review posted last October on Tripadvisor. “The area where you board is dirty, there are stray animals walking around everywhere, and the captains are hand fishing in the water, gutting and cleaning fish right there,” Ley G said.

“Did a bamboo raft for two. The area was dirtier than I expected,” according to another 2-star rating by ‘ItsDeltadown’ posted in January 2022. “We stopped at an island where loud music was blaring with some pretty rough language …,” said ItsDeltadown in a warning to family vacationers with kids. “Based on the photos, I think we expected a bit more relaxing and more than a little trip up and down the river surrounded by trash and vendors who wouldn’t leave you alone,” ItsDeltadown said.

Read More


  • No comments yet.
  • Add a comment