What’s Romance Got to do With It? Female Sex Tourism in Jamaica

Dalea Bean
Andrew Spencer
It is undeniable that tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries. Globally, it acts as a major contributor to GDP, is a chief source of foreign exchange and accounts for large numbers of direct and indirect employment (Global Report on Women in Tourism 2010). For this reason, tourism and the hospitality industry have become loci of extensive research. Historically, much of this research focuses on economic growth, sustainable development, marketing, and other issues to do with the industry’s profitability. International and regionally based have however, recognised the need to research the human component of this economic giant, particularly the links between gender and tourism. The industry is rife with gendered issues and an important focal point of gender research in Caribbean tourism is that of sex. Sex is one of the oldest motivations for travel and sex tourism is one outcome of a gendered industry and a gendered international system. Sex work, prostitution and the spread of HIV, are arguably the most common gender related stream of research in the field.

The dominant image of sex tourism is one of white men of various shapes and sizes traveling to tropical parts of the world to indulge in the pleasures local women have to offer. Not only are male tourists have been socialized into seeing women of color as exotic, more willing and available but the Caribbean is often marketed as a destination heavily imbued with feminine, sexualized imagery. While most common, focus on this occurrence tends to overshadow the fact that women are also consumers of this tourism ‘product’. So entrenched is this typecasting of the 2male gendered sex tourism, that the classification of “romance tourism” has been coined to classify acts of Rent-A Dread and other female versions of the travel-for-sex phenomenon. This work attempts to reposition the focus of research on a critical aspect of tourism in Jamaica. It highlights the difference in perception in male and female driven sex tourism in the country and comments on these categorizations as products of traditional ideologies relating to race and class distinctions and the appropriateness of sexual agency of men and women. The work, part of an ongoing, broader study, examines the varied perceptions of sex tourism, through the eyes of employees in the hospitality industry and from interviews with female tourists. The project aims at debunking the myth that male and female’s search for companionship while on vacation are vastly different activities and argues that more thorough study of female consumers of tourism is needed to inform policies related to marketing, branding, and health concerns in the tourism industry.