This paper explores the role of public policy in the development of tourism in Jamaica. It focuses on two separate and contrasting periods. In the first, 1972?80, referred to here as 'The Socialist Era', the Jamaican government pursued goals of self-reliance combined with seeking to integrate tourism into Jamaican life. In the second period, 1980?89, 'The Period of Capitalism', emphasis was shifted to reducing government intervention and pursuing foreign exchange earnings. A comparison of tourism development during these two periods reveals that during the 'Socialist Era' some success was achieved in the Jamaicanisation of tourism but at the same time government policies contributed to an overall decline in the industry as measured by the traditional indicators of tourist arrivals, hotel occupancy, hotel provision and employment. During the 'Period of Capitalism' a change in policy is associated with a successful recovery of tourism numbers but an increasing tension between locals and tourists. The study cannot provide causal explanations of the links between policy shifts and tourism development. The wide range of external variables, including oil crises and world inflation, that occurred during the periods is too great to admit this kind of certainty. However, the policy background provides an important context for understanding the link between policy and development in one of the oldest and most well-developed tourist destinations in the Caribbean.