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HomeNewsArchivesSafety and Security Key to Future of Caribbean Tourism, Officials Say

Safety and Security Key to Future of Caribbean Tourism, Officials Say

Moving beyond the obvious point that violent crime is bad for business, V.I. tourism officials and police commissioners from Caribbean countries agreed that in the age of digital media, perceptions match reality when it comes to safety and security.
“If we share the experiences without having to share the same tragedies, then we have a chance to put together a blueprint,” said David Baines, police commissioner of the Cayman Islands, speaking at the final day of the weeklong meeting of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort and Spa Thursday.
“Because they really are the same problems we are all facing,” Baines said.
He lauded proactive efforts by the V.I. Department of Tourism and the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association to offer tourists and potential visitors real and current information and tips on safety and the crime situation — with one big caveat: “This is not about making sure the media has a good story that scares the hell out of everybody,” he said.
Allowing a general sense of alarm and letting rumors go unchecked after a violent incident, without giving media and visitors specifics and context, can backfire, he said. Good planning and coordination between the police and tourism officials and industry can contain a potentially disastrous incident while giving the public the data they need to make informed choices.
“Do not inform to distress,” he said.
Baines agreed with V.I. Tourism Director Beverly Nicholson-Doty and Hotel Association President Lisa Hamilton that an incident or negative trend on one Caribbean island can affect the entire region, and both of them pointed to the 2008 slaying of a woman on her honeymoon in Antigua as an example.
"Here in the Virgin Islands, we are just one incident away from economic disaster,” said Hamilton, who advocated for solid crisis planning and a friendly, pervasive and helpful police presence in heavily trafficked tourist areas.
She and Doty said the tourism industry is and must continue to reach locals and help alleviate the conditions that breed crime in the first place. They cited efforts to work with children in public housing communities, foster an active presence of police as mentors at local schools, and seek opportunities for contact between tourists and locals.
One serious casualty of decreased security, Doty said, is the barriers it erects between visitors and islanders, “setting up the haves and have-nots.”
She said dissolving those barriers and fostering interaction leads to a shared sense of security, which, in turn, is shared with others through word of mouth and on the Internet.
“There is no difference between perception and reality,” Doty said. She said a good experience may be shared with two or three people, while a bad experience is often shared with 10 to 20 others or, through online reviews such as Trip Advisor, “let’s multiply that by a thousand.”
Recognizing that the inverse is also true, Doty said that, “If the Virgin Islands is a safe place to live, it is certainly a safe place to visit.”
Calling the region “One Caribbean,” she said, “We’re all interchangeable.”
“They just don’t differentiate from one island to the next,” she said, “so it affects us all.”
Doty and Harrison said the V.I. Department of Tourism works hand in hand with the VIPD, and that cooperation works both ways. Police let the tourism officials know of trends and issues, and the tourism officials apprise the police of events and programs that need extra manpower or security.
“When we think of tourism, we have to think of safety and security,” Doty said.
Thursday’s session on tourism marked the end of the weeklong conference that brought police commissioners and other officials from throughout the Caribbean to St. Thomas.
"The resounding theme in our closed sessions all week was that we are all seeing an increase in violence in our communities,” V.I. Police Commissioner Novelle Francis said after the session.
“The conference really allowed us to make important connections,” Francis said, “that will go a long way, I think, to preparing us to come up with solutions.”
“Going forward, we can learn from each others’ experiences and build on the successes we’ve heard about here,” he said.
As police commissioners, said Bermuda’s Michael DeSilva, “We have to have a wider umbrella view of what we do and how that relates to the rest of the community.”

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