0

Hotels dealing with visitor safety concerns on crime

photo

Kerry Fountain

• Amid reports Canada has elevated Bahamas warning

• Inquiries 'not overwhelming' and no 'mass cancellation'

• Fears global media 'painting Bahamas with broad brush'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Hotels have been fielding concerns over whether it is safe to vacation in The Bahamas as Canada was yesterday reported to have issued a crime alert on this nation.

Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business that while the volume of inquiries fielded by member hotels has "not been overwhelming" there is growing concern about the level of media coverage around the stance taken by key source markets responsible for generating 90 percent of this nation's visitors.

Confirming that the sector is "not seeing any mass cancellations", he added that it was impossible to blame the few that are occurring on the crime alerts and said: "It has not impacted business to this point."

Urging tourists to not abandon their travel plans in light of the warnings, Mr Fountain told this newspaper that his Promotion Board and hotel members are especially fearful that overseas media coverage "paints The Bahamas with a broad brush" and gives the impression that crime is running rampant nationwide rather than being principally a New Providence problem.

Pointing to this nation's 16 multi-island destinations, he nevertheless voiced concern over "the image and identity" of The Bahamas that is being portrayed by these travel alerts and subsequent media coverage, and added: "The prevention of crime is everyone's business."

Mr Fountain spoke prior to international media reports disclosing that Canada has issued a travel advisory to its citizens warning about criminal activity in The Bahamas. The Canadian government's website, last updated on January 29, 2024, is urging its citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution in The Bahamas due to high rates of crime, especially in Freeport and Nassau".

The language suggests Canada has just elevated the "risk level" surrounding travel to The Bahamas in response to the recent murder spike given that it, somewhat bizarrely, contradicts the headline alert by stating that there has been "a decrease in violent crime since the beginning of 2018".

While Canada makes up a much smaller portion of The Bahamas' total visitor base compared to the US, it is still one of this nation's major source markets and typically delivers the second highest number of tourists on an annual basis.

Mr Fountain, referring to the US position and subsequent media coverage, told Tribune Business: "First of all, it's concerning. It's concerning not only to us as people that work in the business of tourism in the Out Islands, but we're concerned citizens. What's going on right now we all want to see it ended.

"As far as it's being covered in the US media, it is concerning, and what's most concerning is - and I have to be very sensitive here - but what's most concerning is it paints The Bahamas with a broad brush. They speak to The Bahamas as single, but we know The Bahama is plural.

"It reminds me of peak hurricane season, when some news reports talk about hurricanes coming through The Bahamas yet they only impact one or two islands. They [foreign media] have to sell advertising and make their reports, but I wish they would be more specific."

Mr Fountain revealed that, while the impact from the US travel advisory and related reporting has been minimal thus far, Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board resort members have dealt with concerns from visitors who have either booked - or represent potential bookings - asking if it is safe to holiday in The Bahamas as a result of the crime coverage.

"For the most part, yes," the Board chief said in response to Tribune Business questions. "It's not been overwhelming but, yes, some visitors that are booked and some visitors that are possibly thinking of booking, have been asking questions around: 'Is it safe?'

"They're not just asking questions about the Out Islands, but they know we live, work and reside in The Bahamas. People coming on a cruise ship are asking: 'Should they come?' The answer is: 'Yes, they should'.

"In terms of bookings on the books, we are not seeing any mass cancellations. The few cancellations we have received... we cannot attribute it to the travel advisory. It could be the weather, could be anything. For the most part, it has not impacted business to this point.

Despite the international media's failure to distinguish between New Providence and the Family Islands, Mr Fountain reiterated that rising crime is a challenge that must be dealt with and all Bahamians and residents have a part to play in the solution.

"It is an issue and we have to deal with it," he told this newspaper. "We are still concerned about the image, the identity that is being painted by the media. It has to cause us to look at ourselves and come up a comprehensive plan that involves all stakeholders here - private citizens and residents of The Bahamas.

"We have to come up with a plan that is not just geared to addressing crime as it relates to visitors but crime period. We say tourism is everyone's business, but the prevention of crime is everyone's business. While what is happening is happening outside the tourism zone, we are concerned about our workers. They have to go home. We have to get a handle on it."

The US travel advisory on The Bahamas has received extensive media coverage in New York and the north-east, which is the primary tourist source market for this nation. It has featured on major TV networks, such as NBC, ABC and CNN, as well as in newspapers including the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today.

More excitable tabloids, such as the New York Post, have also picked up on developments, using language such as “think twice about a tropical getaway to the Caribbean this winter". It added: “Safety concerns have reached a point of severity where US officials say people shouldn’t even try to ‘physically resist’ being robbed.”

Present US travel advisory language on The Bahamas is little different from the previous version, apart from an update to reflect the recent murder spike, and Cabinet ministers have said it does not represent an enhanced or increased alert/rating for tourists to heed.

However, the numerous comments by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members seeking to reassure visitors that The Bahamas remains a safe destination for tourists, as well as the multiple police conferences on the subject suggest the Government is becoming nervous about the potential negative fall-out for the country's largest industry and wider economy.

The Prime Minister's Office, in a statement issued yesterday, said: "The Government of The Bahamas is alert, attentive and proactive to ensure that The Bahamas remains a safe and welcoming destination.

"In 2023, The Bahamas welcomed over nine million visitors, a significant milestone for our nation. We were proud to share our crystal clear waters, beautiful beaches, vibrant culture, warm people and family-friendly adventures with so many visitors.

"The rating of The Bahamas has not changed. We remain a 'level 2' alongside most tourism destinations. The incidents described in the January 2024 US Embassy crime alert do not reflect general safety in The Bahamas, a country of 16 tourism destinations, and many more islands," it added.

"The safety and security of everyone is of paramount importance to us, and we are confident that The Bahamas will remain safe and welcoming for millions of visitors to continue to enjoy the magic and beauty of our beautiful islands."

photo

Former Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar. Photo: Moise Amisial

Dionisio D'Aguilar, former minister of tourism and aviation in the Minnis administration, echoed industry concerns that it is the nature and scale of international media coverage - rather than the travel advisories themselves - that threaten to have the greatest consequences for The Bahamas.

Confirming that he watched NBC's one-and-a-half minute segment on the travel alert, which aired on Saturday night, Mr D'Aguilar said it also affirmed that Jamaica and other Caribbean nations are facing similar crime-related challenges to The Bahamas.

"These travel advisories pop up from time to time, and by themselves I don't think there's a major issue because, first of all, most tourists have booked their holidays and are not minded to change their bookings," he added.

"I don't think there will be any immediate impact, but this type of coverage is never good and someone making a future booking might be minded to look up these travel advisories and be influenced by it. I don't think it's going to impact any cruise ship passengers. It might impact their desire to get off in the destination if their exposed to negative press; they might be influenced to stay on the ship."

Mr D'Aguilar, though, was quick to make the point that "every destination has its problems" and that major US cities are widely perceived as being more unsafe than the Caribbean. "In the short-term, it will probably have little impact," he said of the US and Canadian positions. "But it's certainly a trend we must keep our eye on.

"Certainly, the perception and the news being said about it is a concerning trend. We don't want that to continue. There's nothing much the Ministry of Tourism can do about it other than say the tourism areas are safe. Once you exercise discretion and common sense, you'll have a safe holiday in The Bahamas."

Mr D'Aguilar echoed an article written earlier this week by former Atlantis spokesman, Ed Fields, adding that there were minimal incidents involving tourists although police have reported two sexual assaults against visitors that occurred on Paradise Island over the weekend.

"I think the level of crime is worrying, but it is much more worrying to us here than those who come to visit," the former minister said. "It seems to be more directed at one another than our foreign visitors. By and large, 99.99 percent of foreign visitors to this country are going to have a safe and peaceful holiday, and have no reason to worry, but the negative press causes you to question that.

"That's why this is a little concerning to the Ministry of Tourism. We often say we are our own worst enemies we tend to go on and on and on about the crime situation. It doesn't bode well for the destination because we then scream from the hill top how bad the crime situation is. While we have a right to say that, look at the consequences because it generates this negative press.

"We always felt when I was at the Ministry of Tourism that if the story was below the fold or on page 3, it would help, but it screams from the headlines."

Comments

ThisIsOurs 3 months, 2 weeks ago

"We always felt when I was at the Ministry of Tourism that if the story was below the fold or on page 3, it would help, but it screams from the headlines."

how do you put 20 murders below the fold? I wonder if our politicians get it. I dont think they do. I remembrr Carl Bethel during the pandemic speaking about Bahamians who cant "behave". Desmond Bannister and others cackling about cutting down trees on the seashore to discourage Bahamians from visiting the beach. It doesnt matter which side they act as if the citizens are "the other", and too dumb to grasp that what happening right before their eyes isnt really happening.

Please tell the lady having a breakdown in the road remembering bullets flying through her car that shes overreacting and to stop scaring the tourists. While youre at it, tell the 7 year old who got shot that things arent as bad as he thinks, after all, no tourists were hurt..

0

Porcupine 3 months, 2 weeks ago

The real danger to Bahamian society is not the loss of tourists, but the politicians we presently have in positions of power. I cannot see a one of them who gives a damn about The People. Each one of them seems only to want to grab as much as they can for themselves. Then we do a shite shuffle every 5 years as if it will change anything.

0

Sign in to comment