Tourism stakeholders are tonight pleading with the Barbados Government once more to see the importance of the tourism product and realise that it is being affected by constant harassment and act urgently.
Those who met with senior members of the Royal Barbados Police Force this evening at Ocean’s 2 Resort in Dover, said this problem can no longer be ignored.
Chairman of today’s forum, Hal Austin, told Barbados TODAY it had been four months they have tried to have a meeting with Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy to discuss ways of dealing with this scourge but to no avail.
He was not the only one who urgently desired a remedy either.
Hoteliers and restaurateurs all loudly and strongly vented their disgust with the issue and what they felt was the RBPF’s and Government’s inefficiency to deal with it.
Operations Manager at Ocean’s 2, Paul Collymore said he believed the Gap could be to Barbados what South Beach was to Miami but it would only work if there was a reduction in the level of harassment.
“I forbid anything happen in the Gap because if anything happen[s], it impacts on the businesses in this area, it impacts on the destination and I think as soon as something happened we are going to have this reactionary approach to crime prevention,” he said.
While the business people acknowledged the good the Force did and adamantly stated it was not their intention to make the Force look incompetent, they warned if the problem was not solved those visitors who did decide to visit the island and St. Lawrence Gap would be confined to the hotels.
And in the current economic climate when guests are willing to patronise businesses they would not be inclined to do so outside of the hotels’ environs.
”What we rely on is word of mouth and the positive experience from the guests who go and put it on Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor… is not a social media site to be overlooked. I think we have to understand the importance [of tourism]… we need help and we need urgent help. We are eight weeks before the start of our season where you will have more visitors on the ground. I don’t think we need to wait ‘till the start of the season, I think we need to get the momentum going right now and take a zero tolerance approach. Same as in Bridgetown, whatever can be done in Bridgetown can be done in the gap and let them understand and get a clear message to them that we had enough,” Collymore urged.
General Manager of Couples, Wayne Williams, added his thoughts. He said the impact this menace is causing economically on the Gap and Barbados’ coffers had not been stated enough.
”I have 280 rooms and at 50 per cent I have 280 guests. I am going to encourage all those guests, because it is in my benefit, to get off the property. My business relies on repeats and I do have a lot of guests who come to Barbados who have been to Jamaica, what’s the difference? Staying at the property does not give them [a different experience] they can get that at an all inclusive property in Jamaica.
”We sell St. Lawrence Gap in a major way – it is the freedom of movement and the economic benefit is tremendous. One hundred of my guests walking out on the street in over a week, what do they spend? We need to look at that, we are losing and what it takes to just be more vigilant and have more police presence. I think the presence does make a difference,” he said.
Presently the lone mobile police unit located in the Gap is operational once a week.
One of the officers, Inspector Steven Streeks, said “it operates when the resources are available”, however the stakeholders wholeheartedly stressed this was not the way to go.
Visibly frustrated and still shaken, one businesswoman recounted a harrassing experiencing. She said a very familiar person to officers harassed her a few years ago and up to today nothing has been done.
”He sent an email where he threatened to chop off my head, tell me to go back to Guyana where I came from – I was born here. I took that letter to the police nothing happened. I called [Ministry of Transport and Works] because he was on my sidewalk nothing happened. I called Town and Country Planning because he had a stall that was left there for more than two weeks, nothing happened. If that is not harassment… he has to practically kill me first before something could happen”, she argued.
Speaking on behalf of police, Crime Prevention Officer, Station Sergeant Stephen Griffith said the force planned to meet with the stakeholders again at a later date to discuss ways forward.
This was the fourth meeting between police and tourism stakeholders for the year to deal with the issue. [email protected]