By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has pledged its support for efforts to “strictly enforce” watersports industry regulations, and backed a ‘zero tolerance’ approach towards violators.
Stuart Bowe, the BHTA’s president, in an e-mailed response to Tribune Business’s questions said the entire industry had to “be very concerned” about how the escalating crime crisis was impacting tourist perceptions of the Bahamas.
Speaking out after the alleged recent sexual assault on a US visitor by an unlicensed jet ski operator, which prompted the latest US Embassy crime advisory, Mr Bowe said safety was “of paramount importance” for the tourism industry.
“The Bahamas is marketed as a premier destination and visitor expectations are high,” he told Tribune Business. “We cannot provide quality experiences which exceed our visitors’ expectations in an environment where visitors are concerned for their safety.
“We have to therefore be very concerned about the perception of crime, and have to work with all so that advisories are put in the right context with respect to the impact on our visitors.”
The US Embassy, in its advisory, said all its staff had been banned from doing business with jet ski operators at Cable Beach and Cabbage Beach.
It advised all US tourists to shun the sector, which it described as “minimally regulated”, adding that five alleged sexual assaults by jet ski operators on visitors were alleged to have occurred since mid-2014.
The advisory prompted an outcry from legitimate, licensed jet ski and watersports operators, who argued that the advisory - coupled with a few ‘rogue’ operators - were endangering their livelihoods and those of their employees.
The Government, prompted by the US advisory, reacted rapidly to beef up enforcement efforts, with Royal Bahamas Police Force and Defence Force officer now on jet skis to patrol the waters off New Providence.
Mr Bowe, meanwhile, warned: “The perception of crime and safety in the Bahamas is of paramount importance to the industry. As we have stated in the past, a positive visitor experience is vital to the health and welfare of our tourism economy.
“With the advancement of social media, information and technology, we have instant access to the global market.
“However, in the world of instant messaging, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook; the old adage ‘good news travels fast, bad news travels faster’ is more relevant than ever before.”
Mr Bowe added that the BHTA had previously worked with the Government and the private sector to address issues involving the watersports and commercial watercraft industry.
“We have liaised with the appropriate regulatory bodies to help formulate regulations governing the industry, and with the hotel sector to ensure their guests are adequately informed so they can be guided accordingly,” he said.
“As it pertains to the industry, we applaud persons who work tirelessly to provide safe, quality-conscious experiences for persons seeking to enjoy the natural resources of the Bahamas; after all, our visitors come to this destination to enjoy our sun, sea and sand.
“We will continue to work with the public and private sector to ensure that the regulatory framework of the watersports industry is relevant and effectively protects consumers, and that regulations are strictly enforced. We agree with the recent statements made by the respective government bodies which reflect the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy towards non-compliance and abuse of our country’s rules and regulations.”