Tobago hotel, tourism head: Keep residents as safe as tourists

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A visitor from the Norwegian Sky cruise ship plays the steelpan during a welcome reception at the Scarborough Port on February 4. – Photo courtesy Maurice Goddard

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) president Alpha Lorde is calling for the safety of residents of Tobago to be given the same priority as international visitors.

Lorde was speaking to Newsday on March 6 following a media release from police which revealed that there have been no reports of serious crimes against any of the 89,000-plus visitors who arrived in Tobago in the last four months.

In contrast, gun violence remains an issue on the island with five murders already for the year. Tobago recorded 14 murders in 2023. There were ten murders in 2022.

In a media release on March 6, the police credited the safety of visitors to the “steadfast and strategic concentrated patrols” of its Tobago Division, particularly the Tourism-Oriented Policing Section (TOPS), led by Cpl Wendy John.

Police said that since November 11, 2023, 49 cruise ships have docked at the Tobago Ports of Charlotteville and Scarborough with approximately 89,700 visitors. During their short stay, usually no more than 12 hours, those who disembarked visited places such as the Adventure Farm and Nature Reserve, Buccoo Reef, Mt Irvine and Pigeon Point beaches, Cocoa House, Argyle waterfall, Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve and various of the island’s historic forts, to name a few.

However, before their arrival and subsequent touring of the island, police say a blueprint of several safety and pre-emptive measures is adopted to ensure the seamless transition from ship to site.

TOPS officers, along with their counterparts at the Scarborough Police Station and other units, work together with the island’s tourism and hospitality stakeholders, to host crime-prevention seminars and consultations.

The results, according to John, are evident in the feedback of visitors, who “usually express their feelings of how safe they feel and how friendly and kind the police and the people of the island are.”

But this accomplishment, she said, involves the sustained and concentrated patrol regime of foot, mobile, and e-bikes, in tandem with tour operators.

“As TOPS officers, or police officers generally, our main objective is to ensure the safety of our fellow men, but in this case, visitors and the citizens,” she said.

She added, “We are aware and are responding to new crime trends on the island that seem unnerving, but to have the upper hand in this fight, we are motivated to ensure that a proactive approach of constant visibility of patrols throughout the island.

“While our remit focuses specifically in areas where the tourist traverses, as TOPS officers, while on patrol we collaborate with supporting units to address other crimes that affect locals as well and ensure that our presence is felt,”

She said visitors often tell officers that they can’t wait to return to Tobago.

Lorde said he was happy to hear that international visitors had a safe stay in Tobago, but he was keen on seeing that level of safety extended to residents in Tobago.

He told Newsday, “I am grateful that there is a strong interest and support from the police service to ensure the protection of the tourists on the island, but ensuring the protection of the tourists is only ten per cent of the battle. If we cannot manage crime then the public relations nightmare that is crime does nothing to encourage people from coming to the island.

“I look at the aspect of crime from a holistic point of view. I am the president of the THTA. I am in favour of anything that boosts our tourism product – but I’m also a Trinidad and Tobago national, and I would like to believe that residents here deserve the same level of protection as a tourist coming here.

“The crime policy should be holistic before it’s specific.”

The issue of arrival figures has been a bone of contention between the Division of Tourism and Minority leader Kelvon Morris. Last month, the division claimed there were 27,899 international visitors for January. The division said it was “great news” and a 27.2 per cent increase from the previous year. It said it was the highest number of arrivals for any January since 2017.

However, Morris said the actual figure was much less as the division erroneously calculated every passenger aboard the cruise ships – whether they had disembarked or not.

According to UN Tourism, “A visitor is a traveller taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited. A visitor (domestic, inbound or outbound) is classified as a tourist (or overnight visitor), if his/her trip includes an overnight stay, or as a same-day visitor (or excursionist) otherwise.”

Morris said the majority of people being classified as visitors by the division had not left the ship nor spent a dollar in the local economy. He said the division should have also counted the ship’s captain and crew also, if that was the methodology used to tabulate the figures.