Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By NICO SCAVELLA
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe is “concerned” about the latest streak of murders in Nassau and the negative impact the reports could have on the Bahamas’ tourism industry.
While speaking with The Tribune before heading into the House of Assembly, Mr Wilchcombe did not say whether he believed the country would lose business because of the high level of crime.
However, he acknowledged that the negative reports are “not good for the country”.
He added that the “imagery of the country” is affected whenever there is a spate of violent crime.
“We’re in a small global village now,” he said. “I am concerned, meaning that I think the country is affected, the imagery, because it gets out there.
“Every bit of information is transmitted throughout the world. The internet has shrunk the world.
“So I am concerned when information gets out about the Bahamas, and it just causes us to work that much more diligently to ensure that we could rid ourselves of the image and the menace that has unfortunately invaded our country. Does that information get to the world? Yes it does. Does it impact upon our country, I think eventually it could.”
Due to the high levels of crime in the country, reports surfaced that the country’s tourism industry may take a hit as a result.
In September last year Tribune Business reported that it had received a letter from Terry Thornton, Carnival Cruise Lines’ senior vice-president, who had said that an unnamed Cabinet Minister was presented with a “draft” warning during a May 2013 meeting of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) members.
“The Bahamian government was made aware in advance that cruise lines were planning to warn their guests,” Mr Thornton wrote.
“Carnival Cruise Lines began providing cautionary information to our guests in late May,” he wrote. “Over the past few months, other cruise lines calling at Nassau also have issued similar information to their guests.”
Recently there was an unconfirmed newspaper report that the FCCA had told government officials during a meeting in July of their plans to discontinue service to the Bahamas if the country’s security issues were not dealt with.
However, Mr Wilchcombe said that the FCCA “never once threatened the Bahamas.” He also said that the government and the FCCA “have meetings regularly” and that the meeting in question was to discuss another paramount Bahamian issue: Value Added Tax (VAT).
Mr Wilchcombe did confirm that in view of the crime problem, various cruise lines have been warning passengers not to disembark upon docking in Bahamian ports, something that he said he had addressed with the FCCA.
“We spoke with them because we saw some warnings and their warnings are usually as a result of what happens at the American Embassy,” he said. “When the embassy issues a statement they have to worry about liability and they have to worry about the safety of their passengers and that’s understood.
“What we’re hoping to do is ensure that there is greater communication so that we can communicate the message better to the customer and not frighten the customer. So we’ve had that discussion as well.”
“The focus of the meeting with them at the time I think the newspaper article is referring to was VAT,” he said. “They wanted to understand VAT and how it affects them. The truth is the FCCA has always been a partner to the Bahamas. Our concerns range from security to the bollards to the smooth flow of visitors to our country and, of course, security. But their concerns are equal to ours and we want to make sure that our port is exceptional and the best in the world. So when they raise issues with their experience, the fact that they do provide more than four million visitors to our country, we sit and we listen.
“But never once have they threatened the Bahamas and never once have they told us, during my watch and during the recent meetings with the cruise lines that they had any concerns that would cause them to want to pull out of the country.”
Mr Wilchcombe said that in an upcoming meeting with the FCCA the government wants to discuss the possibility of the cruise lines assisting with the marketing of Carnival, a festival planned for next year. He added that many of the cruise lines are considering expansion in the Bahamas.
“We have a wonderful relationship,” he said.