Beach patrols ahead to protect tourists from ‘harassment’ and crime

Director of Planning and Policy at the Ministry of Tourism, St Clair Soleyn
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Exclusive by Shermain Bique-Charles

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Antigua and Barbuda has long been a favourite destination among vacationers who fly to the Caribbean for sunny getaways. But some are reporting harassment on the very beaches they flock here to enjoy.

And in a bid to save the country’s breadbasket, the Ministry of Tourism has been busy putting mechanisms, policies and strategies in place to curtail the impact on the industry which is still battling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Director of Planning and Policy at the Ministry of Tourism, St Clair Soleyn, and his team have been dealing with managing the beaches, plus vending, watersports, and tour guides – the whole gamut of activities making up the sector.

He told Observer in an exclusive interview yesterday that while the challenges are great, plans are well underway to maintain the high standards the twin island nation is known for.

Chief among the setbacks is apparent harassment of tourists by vendors “who are supposed to know better”, coupled with criminal activities including robberies and sexual harassment.

“We see that visitors are annoyed with harassment on the beach. Vendors are continuously offering products to them while they are resting.

“Some people are enjoying the sun or reading a book, and every 15 minutes they are being harassed by vendors to buy something,” Soleyn told Observer.

He said, according to local policy, vendors should not be soliciting tourists. Instead, they are expected to remain in their stations for customers to visit.

“I took it upon myself to do a site observation at Valley Church Beach and it was full with around 300 persons. I saw this couple and I started the clock. In 15 minutes, about 11 vendors passed by to offer them something. I see that this is very difficult to manage,” he explained.

To help curtail what he said is a longstanding issue, about 12 officers with powers to arrest will soon be deployed on beaches across Antigua which are considered hotspots for criminal activities.

These men, according to Soleyn, have already undergone six weeks of intense training with the police force, although they will not be made constables.

“We do have a presence in beach security but they don’t have the kind of power to make some of the interventions that we would like them to, so we teamed up with the police force to have 12 of our outstanding security train in a six-week programme, with the view that they can achieve the power to arrest so that can help to beef up security there,” he said.

These officers are currently being equipped with the tools and equipment they need to perform their duties.

In addition to manpower on the ground, aluminium surveillance towers are also set to be installed at Hawksbill and Deep Bay beaches – two apparent hotspots for criminal activities.

“It has become difficult to install these towers but we are moving along. We are looking to get the towers which we are told have a lifespan of 30 years and they can be dismantled in two hours.

“We were sourcing these towers from Russia but the war has upset the issue. The cost has tripled and there are issues shipping,” Soleyn said, adding that efforts remain underway to source the equipment from elsewhere.

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