Officials of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) are pleading with authorities to do more to urgently tackle the issue of gun violence and to remove the remaining COVID-19 restrictions, which they say continue to make the destination uncompetitive.
Chairman of the BHTA Renée Coppin warned that if the violence was not arrested then the struggling industry, which has been suffering from very little business over the past two-and-a-half-years could come under even more pressure.
She argued that while she understood there were some impacts from international threats over which the island had no control including the climate crisis, inflation and “rumours of war”, BHTA members were concerned about the threat of violence on the island and the COVID-19 measures.
Coppin said while they feared drawing attention to the issue by speaking about it, the association feels that if they keep quiet “then we do not lend our voice and support to the efforts to reduce it”. This, she said, placed them “between a rock and a hard place”.
“We are a destination which has safety as one of its brand planks and so, any increase in crime is a threat to our industry,” she said.
Last month was recorded as one of the bloodiest months for Barbados this year, with the shooting death of several individuals and injury of others. A number of the shootings took place shortly after the Attorney General Dale Marshall and Commissioner of Police Richard Boyce addressed the crime situation in a briefing.
Last week, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that Government intended to amend the Firearms Act to introduce new sentencing as she called for a “whole of nation approach” to tackling the upsurge in gun violence.
Coppin argued that a full recovery of the tourism industry was paramount to being “part of the solution to giving our people options and opportunities outside of crime”. As such, she said the BHTA was prepared to work with communities, schools, civil society and government “to combat the scourge of lawlessness”.
“Barbados must be made safe for all of us and, when that happens, we do not need to worry about whether it is safe for tourists,” she said.
In relation to the further extension of the Emergency Management Act and the COVID-19 protocols, Coppin said the BHTA could no longer keep “quiet or be coy” about it, as she noted that the industry wanted answers.
“To what end? When does this end? We in tourism have had to bear the brunt of Barbadian’s ire during COVID about prioritising livelihoods over lives. We faced backlash from our calls for persons to get vaccinated and select vaccine mandates.
“We have had to defend ourselves every time we called for the country to open and allow our sector to rebuild. I wish to say that there is no contradiction between the need to earn in order to live and to live in order to earn,” said Coppin.
Her comments came as she addressed the BHTA’s quarterly meeting and panel discussion on Friday at the Mount Gay Visitor’s Centre.
Earlier this week, Minister of Health and Wellness Ian Gooding-Edghill announced that the protocols would be extended for another three months.
“It has been a long and difficult road for our families, businesses and the government, but we have a duty to maintain our surveillance and take the necessary precautions,” he told lawmakers on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday.
However, Coppin told BHTA members that while tourism industry officials take pride in the fact that they supported the Ministry of Health by implementing and enforcing the measures, it was time for them to be further relaxed.
She pointed to a “relatively stagnant” vaccination rate and declining positivity rates. “We feel that a more targeted response is required at this stage so that we protect the most vulnerable without imposing undue restrictions on all.”
“The time has come for us to return to being responsible, self-determining human beings. The time has passed for the state to feel the need to manage and direct us. We are therefore asking for an end to those things that make mandatory what should by now be a matter of choice,” said Coppin.
“We would primarily ask that the mandatory mask mandate be removed and that masks only be mandatory in high-risk settings. We would also like that the distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers come to an end. In the face of a barrage of external threats, please give us the best chance to have our best winter,” she pleaded.
Referencing a recent presentation by President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Nicola Madden-Grieg, Coppin said it was noted that the removal of the COVID-19 restrictions in the majority of the islands across the region was contributing to the growth in the tourism sector regionally.
However, questioning why Barbados continued to maintain its restrictions, Coppin said “There has been no indication of any concomitant negative health impacts for these islands when compared to Barbados. What I am trying to say is that they have had no worse health outcomes but have had significantly better tourism outcomes.”
Newly appointed CEO of the BHTA Geoffrey Roach also joined the call for an easing of the measures, as he recalled that it was after a meeting with Ministry of Health officials last month that the 10-day quarantine was reduced to seven days.
“The association will continue to make representation on the other areas such as mask-wearing which is perhaps the remaining single largest potential determining factor on the decisions of potential visitors,” said Roach.
“While not specifically a protocol, as we see protocols, a requirement for travel is to complete the BIMsafe app. The experience has been that the BIMsafe app continues to be a bugbear as it does not always work as it is expected to, and as such can create a negative to the travel experience, even before embarking the aircraft. If the app cannot be made fit-for-purpose in short order, its use should be discontinued,” he recommended.