A shooting incident in the vicinity of the popular tourist spot of St Lawerence Gap late last month has prompted tourism officials to call for a gun amnesty and for members of the Barbados Defence Force to assist in the crime fighting efforts across the island.
Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Stephen Austin argued that safety and security were among the island’s main brand elements but these were being threatened each day by the increase in gun play in the St Lawrence Gap and around Barbados.
“We have to develop zero tolerance for guns. I suggest a gun amnesty to encourage people to hand in their guns and this may help in getting some guns off of the streets. Thereafter a clear message in terms of policing and sentencing must be followed if we are serious about reducing this problem,” he warned.
Austin, who also called for a crackdown on the illegal drug trade and beach harassment of tourists, told the BHTA’s fourth quarterly general meeting on Wednesday that while tourists generally gave good reviews about the island, they were warning potential visitors to be wary of the harassment and offers for drugs.
“These concerns need urgent attention. We cannot have visitors or locals, while enjoying the island, offered a menu of drugs as if it is normal business,” said Austin.
“Barbados cannot tolerate the selling of illegal drugs as our visitors will not find it safe and will not return to our shores,” he warned.
The BHTA official was particularly upset at the recent shooting in the Dover, Christ Church area, which sent tourists running “for shelter in the kitchen of hotels” and scampering around the vendors’ area in fear.
Condemning the shooting, Austin said “This is not the wild, wild West, this is Barbados. We cannot be proud of this behavior and we have to find a way to stamp it out.”
He suggested that more police officers be placed “in the tourist belt” of the island, adding that if the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) could not recruit the 200 more officers needed, it should seek the assistance of the defence force so it could adequately tackle the issue.
“If we are unable to recruit 200 new police officers in the short term, we should mobilize the assistance of the Barbados Defence Force in the mean-time and form a special Tourism Police task force, dressed for purpose in shorts and on foot or bikes, and have presence in Oistins, Maxwell Beach, Dover, St Lawrence – both road side and beach side – and Accra , Pebbles and right along the west coast,” he suggested.
“They would be specially trained to protect and deter the trade of sale of drugs, reduce harassment and loitering. This has to be done in conjunction with the laws of Barbados in an effort to reduce the number of repeat offenders. All our members suffering from problems of harassment will tell you that they know the characters who are causing the problem, and just like they know the characters the police and the law courts know of these offenders. So we have to find a way to protect our visitors and our residents from this criminal behavior,” he added.
Austin said the BHTA had outlined its concerns during a recent meeting with the Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds and members of the RBPF.
The BHTA had subsequently met with other stakeholders and they have decided to form an association, said Austin, who also pointed out that areas that can be “easily fixed” in the short-term had been identified.
“We will first address the areas we can fix before Christmas. The BHTA’s Tourism Fund and the Tourism Development Corporation will be working together on this project,” he said, pointing out that cleaning up of the Dover Beach area would be part of that attack.
Also addressing the BHTA’s fourth general meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday, Chief Executive Office of the BHTA Senator Rudy Grant warned that cleanliness of the island was a very important brand element and should not be taken for granted.
He said the BHTA was working very closely with stakeholders and the decision was taken to establish a “cleanliness committee” and a “safety and security committee” to tackle that issue.
In relation to crime and beach harassment, Grant said, “While we have started on the south coast, it is the intention of the BHTA to also engage in similar action on the west coast because we must ensure that we take the necessary measures that our destination is safe, secure and that the experience here is exceptional.”