Bahamians are well aware that our tourism and financial services industries are the twin pillars of the nation’s economy. While information about what we offer as an attractive destination for tourists should be suitably alluring, it also needs to be accurate in order to protect our reputation. But, as well as seeking good quality and value for money, a major concern for visitors is safety and security.
Major hotels like Atlantis and Baha Mar publicise The Bahamas as a desirable place to visit, as does the Ministry of Tourism. However, overall responsibility for security lies with other parts of the government which have a duty to try to ensure our country is a safe place to visit.
The reputation of our well-publicised sun, sea and sand and unique flora and fauna - together with first class hotels and facilities - makes The Bahamas a popular destination all the year round, not least to those from North America and Europe wanting to escape their winter. But, if we are perceived by tourism operators elsewhere in the world as a country with a high level of crime that might constitute a threat to the safety of visitors, our tourism industry is likely to suffer, no matter the high quality of our tourism product. So the current controversy about crime and the travel advisories of the US and Canadian governments as well as the cruise company Royal Caribbean is highly significant.
It is self-evident crime exists in varying degrees throughout the world. Some say it is caused by human wickedness and greed and committed by those without a moral compass. Others maintain it is a direct result of social deprivation, child abuse and discrimination.
We are told that, according to the statistics, crime here in The Bahamas is down and the murder rate is the lowest for ten years. What the bare figures gloss over is that, with some horrific exceptions like the shooting of a senior police officer in September last year, most homicides and attacks on people in our country involve either so-called crime-on-crime, gang and drug related issues or domestic violence. Apart from a few equally horrific exceptions during the last few years, tourists, by and large, have not been affected; though such statistics are cold comfort to any who might have suffered an opportunistic assault, robbery or worse.
It is unrealistic to claim, even in a small country like ours where offenders can run but should not be able to hide, that crime can be eliminated. But it can be contained by effective policing, preventive measures and a judiciary that takes wrongdoers off the streets. We have a particular interest in keeping visitors safe by protecting our public places with a visible police presence in suitable numbers. It is, therefore, encouraging to hear the recent remarks by the Minister of National Security about last year’s manpower audit which recommended recruitment of some 800 additional constables.
It is essential as a major tourist destination to maintain our reputation as a generally peaceful, safe and secure place to visit. However, as in any country, tourists should take sensible precautions by avoiding, for example, ostentatious displays of jewellery or of large amounts of cash and walking around in certain areas late at night that would be normally off limits to everybody else – any more than people should wander alone out of hours in parts of major cities like London or New York.
As for the US and Canadian advisories and Royal Caribbean’s separate advice to its passengers, their content surely depends on judgments reached by the US Embassy in Nassau. Since there is no resident Canadian diplomatic presence here, the assumption must be the Canadians have drawn from the US advisory as has Royal Caribbean.
We believe, therefore, our government should be in constant touch with the Americans so that, if they identify potential danger spots for their visitors, our local authorities will have an opportunity to take remedial action in advance of any official warnings that may be disseminated around the world via the Internet. If the US Embassy considers that Fish Fry at Arawak Cay or the Sand Trap on West Bay Street pose a threat, it would make sense to warn the Ministry of National Security and the police so that they can take any extra pre-emptive security measures that are deemed necessary.
It is vital to avoid any international perception that The Bahamas is unsafe for visitors when this is clearly unjustified. The risk to their security is small in our two main cities of Nassau and Freeport and even smaller in the Family Islands. Nonetheless, even if the threat is low, it should not be discounted – and, if any danger is discovered, immediate action should be taken by the police.
Since anyone could be affected, it is essential for the public to be kept informed about the incidence of crime in our country, not least in case it changes in nature or becomes worse. So we look forward to the Commissioner of Police’s report on the latest crime statistics which is expected this month. We hope it will be the beginning of a new and improved dialogue with the public on a matter of extreme importance to us all.