Crime threatening Caribbean tourism
Financial pressure in area's nations not easing
FREEPORT, Bahamas (Reuters) -- Crime and the scruffy surroundings of
resort areas are hampering Caribbean tourist officials' efforts to make
more money in hard times by enticing visitors out of their hotels.
The problem, say local politicians, is not confined to the violent island
which has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but is evident across the
Caribbean, a popular winter vacation destination for Americans and Europeans.
Officials say minor crimes like pick-pocketing, and harassment of visitors
can have a
devastating effect on tourism throughout the region. They cite harassment on
beaches for the Bahamas losing its edge over other destinations.
"Why would a visitor want to leave a clean, safe, all-inclusive resort
to be exposed to
filth and rip-offs? How many times have we seen dead animals in the streets on the
way to resorts?" Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said at this week's
Caribbean Tourism Conference.
"A band of no-good young fellows does not have the right in our countries
the nationals to suffer," he said. "A priority must be placed on stamping out criminal
For much of the Caribbean, tourism accounts for more than 50 percent of
economy, and up to 90 percent on smaller islands. It is the largest foreign exchange
earner for the region and the largest employer, with more than 1 million Caribbean
people working in the sector.
But the islands have been hammered by economic weakness that began in 2001
and the severe drop in travel after that year's September 11 attacks on the United
States. The financial pressure has so far shown no sign of easing, with soft hotel
bookings and flight reservations ahead of the important winter travel season.
It has also left some tourism ministers and travel agents worrying quiet
Crime statistics are often hard to come by, as many of the region's governments
not readily disclose figures. Anecdotal evidence highlights incidents during 2001
such as a series of rapes in St. Lucia and a shooting in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin
Islands, that left a U.S. teen-ager paralyzed.
This year, Guyana has fallen prey to a spate of shootouts and murders while
Barbados has seen an upsurge in break-ins.
Country's crime hurts region's tourism
Economic sluggishness and rising unemployment has often been linked to
increases in crime, which in turn discourages tourists from visiting not only the
country in question but the whole region.
"In the context of people traveling globally, they are not distinguishing
in any great
detail between a country here and a country there in this region," Christie said.
Violence and crime rates are indeed a consideration for tourists when choosing
destinations, agents said.
A business study from the Karma Center for Knowledge and Research in Marketing
at Canada's McGill University found the rate of crime was the main concern for
tourists considering Caribbean destinations. And that research was done in 1998 --
a robust period for the Caribbean travel industry with strong bookings, high
occupancy rates and frequent flights.
Some travel agents played down the problem.
"There's no question it's been an issue," said Richard Kahn, a New York
attending the conference. "When it happens, the impact is on that destination and
then it trickles down throughout the Caribbean as well. Thankfully, it's not an issue
Other agents echoed Kahn, saying violent crime is not now a high-level
Caribbean destinations. They also brushed off a string of murders in Jamaica before
the election earlier this month, saying they did not affect tourist areas.
Tourism officials are more focused on pick-pocketing and general harassment,
Bahamas Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has set up a special police unit to patrol
"We do not pretend that we don't have a problem with harassment and crime,"
Vera Ann Berreton, director of tourism at the country's tourism and culture ministry.
Copyright 2002 Reuters.