Thursday 11th May, 2006

 

Travel advisories hurting Tobago

 
 
 
 
Sports Arena
Womanwise
Business Guardian
 
Letters
Online Community
Death Notices
 
Advertising
Classified Ads
Jobs in T&T
Contact Us
 
Archives
Privacy Policy
 
 
 

BY KRISTY RAMNARINE

The US and British travel advisories posted this year on Tobago have seriously affected the tourism industry on the island according to Rene Seepersadsingh, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association.

Last year, Tobago saw the highest number of tourists—approximately 55,000—which more than doubled the 2000 figure of 25,000.

“It mainly affected the villa sector which is a large sector,” he said during an interview.

“Tourists are still booking into hotels, but they question the safety of the country.”

On February 5, a British national was stabbed in the Lambeau area after resisting a robbery.

Also in February, three British tourists relaxing by the pool of their rented villa in Mt Irvine were attacked and robbed. They were participants in an international pro-am golf tournament.

“Immediately after the incident, the bookings went from 90 per cent to zero per cent,” he said.

“People chose simply not to come to the villas because they were not feeling secure.”

In March, Telegraph Travel reported that the first three months of this year—the peak time for tourism—saw the worst crime levels in the Caribbean’s history.

Also in March 2006, the US and Britain updated travel advisories, warning their citizens that it was dangerous to visit Tobago.

The latest British advisory, dated February 24, also noted “the inability of the Tobago authorities to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators is a serious concern. There have been a number of serious robberies involving tourists in recent years. Some were accompanied by violence, including rape.”

Seepersadsingh said any attack on a tourist is a serious concern, but he believes they exaggerate the problem.

“We respect the prerogative of foreign countries to advise their citizens of what they perceive as a risk,” he said.

“But when we compare Tobago with a lot of other destinations, the crime rate is very low,” he said.

“We, however, accept that we have shortcomings which need to be addressed and we are working on that right now.

“We hope that we will be given the opportunity to prove ourselves so that there will be a change in the advisories.”

Only Monday, a Tobago policeman was attacked and relieved of his firearm while on duty. Although a suspect was held in connection with the incident, police were still in search of the firearm up to Tuesday.

In 2005, Tobago police recorded ten murders, eight kidnappings, 35 rapes, three cases of serious indecency, 164 robberies, 493 house break-ins and seven serious assaults.

And in 2004, four murders, four kidnappings, 27 rapes, five incidents of serious indecency, 92 robberies, 407 house break-ins and six cases of indecent assault were recorded by police in Tobago.

Tourism bread and butter

The tourism industry of T&T now accounts for about 14 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and 17 per cent of its employment, equivalent to about 96,000 jobs.

In Tobago, that dependence upon tourism is significantly higher, where tourism is estimated to account for almost half of the island’s GDP and 57 per cent of all employment.

“The statistics surprised many in our country as to the importance of the tourism sector and reinforced the need for all of us, together, to take our tourism industry that much more serious,” Howard Chin Lee, Minister of Tourism said Monday.

The statistics were published by the world renowned World Travel and Tourism Council in a report prepared last year for T&T.

He was speaking during a two-day workshop entitled Crisis Communication for the Tourism Industry, at Cascadia Hotel.

Chin Lee said the tourism industry is perhaps one of the most competitive worldwide.

“There are almost no barriers preventing travel from one country to another,” he said.

“But because of the very nature of tourism, which is essentially travel to a foreign location to enjoy new and different experiences, the tourism industry of any country is built upon extremely fragile foundations.

“It is built upon meeting the current needs of an increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable customer.

“It is built upon the confidence of these potential visitors that they will be safe when they visit, that they will get value for money, that they will not get sick and that they will be treated properly.”

The Tourism Minister said this confidence can take years to establish and can be lost in a minute. He said crisis can come in many shapes and forms and can impact a tourism industry in many different ways including:

* Natural disasters

* Outbreak of diseases

* Fluctuations in the value of currency or changes in regulations

* Disruptions to air and sea service

* Terrorist attacks

* Upsurge in criminal activity

Govt initiatives

Since crime in Tobago has taken the spotlight a number of initiatives have been announced by government to deal with the problem.

The most is that 19 of the 39 British police officers who have been hired by the Government have been assigned to work with police in Tobago to deal with the rising crime there.

Government is also introducing a 24-hour court on the island to help deal with crimes against tourists, which now carry a minimum sentence of five years’ hard labour.

Richardson Franklyn, adviser to National Security Minister Martin Joseph, said the ministry is working with customs and police at the ports to introduce scanners at ports of entry.

“An inventory was done and it was found that there is a dire need to bring in a substantial amount of scanning machines and walk through machines,” he said.

“Some of the scanning machines are visible to the public and the others are behind the scenes. We have gotten together an entire list of the needs for the points of entry, be it the seaports and airports so that we will be better able to scan.”

He said scanning machines are extremely expensive.

“Some of the recent debate coming out of homeland security, one of the challenges many ports in the United States face was the expense of the scanning machine.

Franklyn said Tobago would also be the pilot country for the Inter-American Tourism and Recreational Facility Security programme (ITRS).

ITRS is an initiative of a six-day conference held by the Inter-American Committee against terrorism with the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“The ITRS looks to enhance security and safety to visitors at tourism and recreational resorts,” he said.

He said the ITRS programme had three principal objectives:

* to strengthen the institutional capacity of the tourism and recreational services sector in the region for sustainability and global competitiveness;

* to disrupt the capacity of terrorist attacks on tourism at recreational services sector in the region and;

* to build visitor confidence in the security and safety of tourism and recreational services in the region.

He said to achieve the objective there would be three main elements.

1. It entails security checks on deliveries to hotels, knowing who is registering to the hotels. We’re putting in place a better system of proof of identification of folks who are coming into hotels and also looking at who is coming unto the compound.

2. The security and infrastructure compliance code which looks at the whole idea of installing CCTVs in the hotels. Also to look at the perimeters of the hotel area and scan vehicles entering the facility.

3. Certified and specialised training which involves working with the owners and managers of hotels and having them understand how to form relations and work with the police service. This is critical in them understanding what their roles are in the security of their hotels and recreation facilities.

THA gets community help

Anselm Richards, security adviser, Tobago House of Assembly, says the government body is working on establishing a department of public safety.

“That department intends to provide public safety support services,” he said.

Richards said officers attached to the department will wear some type of uniform.

“We don’t want to go with the traditional police orientation, we want to introduce something new, but it is all in support to the police,” he said.

“Under that department we are looking to provide marine support services to divers should something go wrong, beach patrol, general public safety support services in our cities and urban areas.”

He said the THA is also mobilising the 5,000 Tobagonians to be part of a social response to crime.

“There is a programme that is designed to work with both communities and the law enforcement agencies aimed at enhancing their relationships,” he said.

“We are looking to have all our police officers on the island through the ministry trained as community oriented police, dubbed the essence of community oriented police. That is introducing to the police the importance of tourism and building of a safe community.”

He said a number of community activities have also been introduced including a community safety competition.

“We are using the idea of the World Cup and challenging our communities to keep a clean score sheet during the World Cup period and they will be rewarded at a function after,” he said.

‘Perception is the problem’

Dr David Beirman, international tourism and recovery specialist, says Tobago does not have a crisis, but a problem of perception.

The Sydney-based speaker is frequently consulted by tourism professionals, academics and the media on the field of managing a wide range of crisis.

“There is a crime problem here in T&T as there are in many other places in the world,” he said during an interview.

“Crime does not necessarily have to be a crisis, it is a problem that people can avoid.”

He said the media and government travel advisories have resulted in the perception that Tobago has a crisis problem because of crime.

“Travel advisories are becoming much more influential than they used to be,” he said.

“Firstly the governments that issue them show that they care about the citizens of their country and the media also uses them and highlights them.

“If the US and UK highlight it in their government travel advisories then people in those countries think that’s a very, very serious issue.”

He said a method of talking to foreign governments without anyone getting embarrassed in the process should be developed.

“So that when a government issues a travel advisory they’re doing so on the basis of knowledge rather than talking it from the media reports. It’s not the media’s fault but people draw their own conclusions about the problem.”

He said one way of changing the stigma attached to Tobago is for someone of international standard to promote the island.

“If Richard Branson were to say that Tobago is a great island, people would listen to him because of who he is,” he said.

Beirman, who is the founding director of the Israel Tourism Office Australasia and SW Pacific, said government needs to intervene.

“Government needs to take a critical role,” he said.

“Government makes the difference on a great tourism recovery and a normal one.”

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell