The absence of a proper national shutdown policy in Barbados in the event of a major hurricane could have a telling impact on the tourism sector, British Virgin Islands (BVI) Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus warns.
Flax-Brutus explained that following the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which left many tourists stranded for several days on affected northern Caribbean islands, tourist destinations were now tasked with reassuring visitors that their safety was paramount.
Her comments came amidst the year-old controversy over the relevance and ambiguities within Barbados’ own national shutdown plan.
Back in June the Department of Emergency Management promised to revise the policy, which came under scrutiny last year after a number of businesses remained open during the passage of Tropical Storm Matthew last September, in defiance of the advice of the state-run agency that everyone should remain indoors until the all-clear was given.
Prior to this Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite had promised to reassess the policy and to make its implementation mandatory.
More than year later, no visible movement has been made towards a concrete policy despite continued concerns from hoteliers and businesses.
However, the BVI tourism official argued that it could no longer be a case of guests at hotels staying at their own risk during a major hurricane, nor was it fair for hotel workers to be made to safeguard guests, while leaving the workers and their properties exposed to danger.
“We in the BVI are now looking at what to do with visitors when there is a threat of a hurricane because we do have enough notification. But unfortunately for us sometimes our guests don’t want to leave and we see that not only in the Caribbean,” Flax-Brutus said at a news briefing at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s headquarters in Warrens, St Michael, where she updated the media on her country’s recovery following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in September.
She suggested that depending on the severity of the storm, it should be mandatory for guests to be evacuated to safer destinations, or to return home.
“We may need to make those tough decisions in order to protect our guests and protect us as well, because we don’t necessarily want to be in a position where workers are trying to protect guests and still have to protect their families,” she added.
Referencing the BVI’s experience with Irma, whose category 5 winds resulted in visitors being stranded for several days and unable to contact their families back home, Flax-Brutus pointed out that clear and precise guidelines for visitor protection would be a good step towards erasing any lingering fears.
Following the passage of Hurricane Irma, more than 1,200 American citizens were evacuated from St Maarten at the US State Department’s request. An estimated 5,000 American citizens were believed to have been trapped on the island that is jointly administered by France and the Netherlands.
It was also widely reported that evacuees told stories about hiding in their hotel bathtubs, fearing for their lives as the storm raged.
They also told of a bank robbery and a gang of men with “long swords” who reportedly showed up at a hotel.
The BVI is seeking to demonstrate that it is on the road to recovery following the hurricane, and is currently hosting the BVI Charter Yacht Society Boat Show, featuring over 30 luxury yachts.