Tourism officials are concerned that crime and violence and harassment of guests could deal a major blow to an industry that is already under pressure from recent taxes.
This concern was raised on Wednesday during the annual general meeting of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Presenting his report, Chairman of the BHTA Stephen Austin said one of the island’s bread and butter industry’s core brand elements was safety and security, but this was being threatened by the level of harassment towards visitors.
At the same time, he said, the number of “gun play incidents and crime seemed to be on the increase”, and this was creating a growing concern among tourism operators.
“Over the first part of this year, we have become increasingly concerned with gun-related crime,” said Austin.
With just about six months into the year, Barbados has already recorded 27 murders, just one shy of the 28 recorded for all of last year.
However, Austin said there was some feeling of reassurance among industry officials following recent meetings with representatives from Government and the Royal Barbados Police Force, who gave a level of commitment that the situation would improve.
It was in December last year that Austin recommended a gun amnesty to help arrest the problem. Government introduced an amnesty in April and netted just over 30 guns.
“While the success or lack of success is debatable, it clearly shows that the Government is listening and responding to correct this troubling situation,” said Austin.
However, the tourism official said the issue of harassment was now becoming a sore point that needed to be addressed urgently.
“The general feedback from many of our DTS (direct tourism services) members as well as accommodation members located in the St Lawrence area, Carlisle Bay and First and Second Street, Holetown is that the level of drug and sexual harassment is increasing and is a serious problem for visitors,” reported Austin.
“We just have to check the reviews of many of our hotels and we will see that many guests say that while they enjoy Barbados, they may not return due to the level of harassment on the island,” he added.
He said while there were reports of increased police presence and police patrols, “the offenders seem not to care” and continued to cause a nuisance.
Austin recommended that Government establish a Crime Task Force Committee to identify the challenges relating to harassment.
He said the BHTA would offer representation for its membership by collecting the information and reports made by visitors.
“We have to make this a number one priority and involve a cross section of ministries such as the Ministry of Tourism, the Attorney General, the Royal Barbados Police Force as well as a representative from the Judiciary in an effort to seriously address the core of this problem,” he recommended.
“Visitors to this island need to feel safe and we cannot accept that a few people will ruin the good reputation of our island home. The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. and individual tourism companies work tirelessly to market and attract visitors to Barbados while in a short period of time this work can be destroyed by drug activity and harassment. We should have zero tolerance for harassment and seek to find better ways to deter this behaviour,” he argued.
As for the multiple taxes imposed on the industry over the past year, Austin said BHTA members remained concerned about the impact some of them could have.
He said while they received needed clarification on how some of the taxes should be filed or applied, there were others that were simply creating a headache because of the magnitude.
Of particular concern to BHTA members is the increase in land tax for commercial properties from 0.7 per cent to 0.95 per cent, which he said was significant.
“We also note that the ten per cent early payment discount has been reduced to only a five per cent discount,” he added.
He said the increase in land tax was compounded by the introduction of the fuel tax and the Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC).
“The increased cost of the water rates will also have a serious effect on members as the rate will now be 4.66 up to 40 cubic meters and over 40 cubic meters the rate will be 7.78 with a cap of 12,000 cubic meters after which the rate reverts to 4.66 as a flat rate,” said Austin.
The BHTA chair also pointed out that while he believed there was more control over the garbage situation, some guests have indicated their displeasure about the lack of cleanliness. He further recommended that “the outsourcing of garbage collection should be continued to keep the country clean”.
Stating that he had no intention of negotiating in the media, Austin said after the association collects more data from members, they would be meeting with Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds and other key stakeholders on the matter.
Symmonds has confirmed that he would be meeting with hoteliers soon to discuss a number of issues and concerns, and put several measures in place to address them. [email protected]