Street masseuse Pat Clarke massages a client at the Bath Fountain, St. Thomas. Photo by Venus Palmer

Editorial note: This news feature is reprinted from the UTech Jamaica student newspaper “USight News Vol.1” 

By Venus Palmer

In the scenic town of Bath, nestled in the heart of St. Thomas, a trend has emerged amidst the beautiful surroundings and cultural heritage at Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa. A growing number of locals are turning to street massage services as a means of making ends meet as a result of the economic hardship brought on by the lack of employment options.

Tourists looking for relaxation and rejuvenation have long been drawn to Bath Fountain, which is well-known for its therapeutic waters. Situated amidst tropical foliage and bubbling mineral springs, it offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But in recent months, a new phenomenon has surfaced: locals, who have few employment opportunities, have been trailing tourists from afar to secure a job.

Street masseuses trail their clients on the road to the Bath Fountain in St. Thomas. Photo by Venus Palmer.

Street Masseuse

Among these residents is Pat Clarke, a mother of three who once worked odd jobs to support her family. “Jamaica’s economy nuh stable. So job hard fi get,” Clarke said. “Mi decide fi use mi massaging skills weh mi granny teach mi when mi ah grow up and mek some money from the tourists visiting the Bath Fountain.”

For Clarke and others like her, the decision to become a street masseuse was born out of necessity rather than choice. Many are struggling to find traditional jobs; therefore, many are turning to entrepreneurship as an alternative. However, their presence has sparked debate among locals and tourists alike.

Some residents argue that the increase in street masseuses has led to unfair competition, especially for those who work for the area’s hotel and spa. Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa manager Leasa Thompson claimed that “tourists are bypassing our establishments in favor of cheaper alternatives offered on the streets. It’s not only hurting our livelihoods but also tarnishing the reputation of our services.”

Authenticity Preferred

On the other hand, tourists have expressed a preference for the street masseuses’ genuineness and reasonable prices. Many mention the attraction of getting massages at the original healing spring, which is thought to have been found years ago by an escaped slave. Even though similar amenities may be found within luxurious resorts, more and more tourists are choosing to support neighborhood street masseuses because they want to experience the originality of the mineral spring.

“Getting a massage at Bath Fountain amidst its natural beauty is an experience that cannot be matched,” Canadian visitor Leslie Thompson said. “While the hotels offer convenience, there’s something special about being outdoors and connecting with the culture and history of the place.”

Street masseuse Sarah McKenzie massages a client at the Bath Fountain, St. Thomas, Photo by Venus Palmer.

 Despite the disagreement, one thing is certain: St. Thomas’s economic problems necessitate a comprehensive solution. The rise of street masseuses provides some locals with a short-term fix, but it also highlights the critical need for long-term employment creation and economic development programs.

The regional administration has committed to investigating ways to promote business and draw capital into the area. To make sure that everyone in the town benefits from economic prosperity, initiatives to foster tourism and protect Bath Fountain’s cultural legacy are also being examined.

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