May 19, 2005 Amid tight security, law enforcement personnel and delegates from all over the Caribbean met on Monday to discuss strategies to improve the tourism product in the Caribbean. One theme rang clear throughout the day; we are neighbors, bound together by our proximity to one another. What affects one island affects all the islands.
The opening ceremony began Monday with much pomp and circumstances. Police commissioners and their delegates were seated at the head table as a contingent of police color guards placed the U.S. and V.I. flags behind the podium. The 73rd Army National Guard band played the Star Spangled Banner and the Virgin Islands March. Novelle Francis Jr., territorial Police chief and master of ceremonies for the day, introduced each commissioner and delegate assisted by a power point presentation showing each official's photo and scenes from their home islands. The color guard appeared again, placing a corresponding country flag behind each official.
Pamela C. Richards, Tourism commissioner, was first to greet the guests. "Welcome to the beautiful white sandy beaches of St. Croix," Richards said. "St. Croix is an island of rich history and friendly people." Richards said visitors are entitled to a "safe and restful" stay in the Caribbean and police are the "gatekeepers" who protect visitors and keep them coming back. "The government cannot do this alone," Richards said. "Collaborative partnerships are needed. We have a moral and ethical obligation to protect our guests."
V.I. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis commented on the historic occasion. This is the 20th anniversary of the ACCP conference and the first time it is being held on American soil. Lewis said the conference was timely, as tourism grows in the region so does the demand for safety. "Everyone must be involved," Lewis said. Calling for "regional partnerships," Lewis said the conference allows officials from diverse places to come together and discuss solutions to common problems.
Paul H. Farquharson, Royal Bahamas police force commissioner and acting ACCP president, said the "fragile nature" of the tourism product dictates the trends and challenges faced by law enforcement in Caribbean islands. He said the Caribbean regions face manmade threats such as terrorism, crime and visitor harassment combined with the threat of natural disasters such as volcanic eruption and hurricanes, "on a daily basis".
Lorraine L. Berry, senate president welcomed the delegation on behalf of the 26th Legislature. Berry said she was proud to be a part of the ceremonies noting that her extended family is from St. Kitts and other parts of the eastern Caribbean. Berry said that because of the challenges facing the region, "no expense should be spared" to protect visitors and that police must have the "training, technology, equipment and manpower" to do their job. Berry commended Richards' role in the conference saying, "The people of the Virgin Islands are pleased with you."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull honored the valor of the law enforcement personnel, calling them the "guardians of life and property and warriors in the fight against crime." Turnbull said the islands are perceived as one entity by many across the globe. "Your problem is my problem and my problem is your problem," Turnbull said.
Martin Joseph, Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism chairman, presented a discussion titled "Terrorism – A Threat to Regional Safety and Security." He said the Caribbean islands are characterized by tranquility and diversity by tourists seeking a destination. But visitors also have an increased awareness of threats of terrorism. Martin said some islands are preparing themselves by conducting simulated terrorist situations. Recently, in Barbados, law enforcement conducted a mock terrorist attack on a cruise ship. In Jamaica, police enacted a hostage situation where 12 high level tourists were held at a hotel resort. "The Caribbean can ill afford to lose ground in the efforts we have gained since 9/11," Martin said. There was a marked drop in tourism in the Caribbean islands after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, mainly because people were afraid to fly, he said. "We must remain vigilant and proactive," Martin said.
Arley Sobers, Barbados Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) research and information manager, lead the discussion on – "The Importance of Tourism in the Context of the Caribbean Economy." Sobers used statistics to show the majority of tourists visit the Caribbean via cruise ships, however money spent by land-based, or overnight visitors, account for a higher percentage of visitor spending. He said two companies, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises, have 70 percent of the cruise business in North America and are responsible for 80 percent of berthing opportunities in the Caribbean. Sobers said today's visitors are concerned with safety as well as being "value conscious." "They want more than sun, sand and sea," Martin said. "They are environmentally aware, more mature, more families and are women traveling and visitors are more likely to plan and travel on short notice." Martin said the community needs to be aware that "pushy vendors" rank high on a list of visitor dislikes followed by "selling drugs, sexual harassment and verbal abuse." Martin said the "perception" of personal safety is one of the most important factors to tourists when selecting a destination.
The six-day conference ends on Monday. Afternoon sessions are closed to the public. Social events and tours have been scheduled by the tourism department and the V.I. government.
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