Monday, November 29, 2010

Security in the Caribbean - Danger in Paradise?

Sara Macefield explores the subject of security in the Caribbean.

Once again, a Caribbean island has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons - crime. It is a curse that blights every country across the world, but when it strikes in such a seemingly tropical paradise, the impact is far worse.

This time it was the turn of St Kitts and the victims were a coach-load of cruise passengers who were ambushed and robbed at gunpoint in an audacious attack. Luckily no one was injured, but the blatant nature of this crime meant cruise lines were quick to respond in dropping the island from their itineraries.

And who can blame them? How could they possibly guarantee the safety of their guests ashore with such criminals at large? The victims were left mourning the loss of their possessions and St Kitts was left mourning the damage to its reputation and disappearance of vital tourism business.

As islands such as Jamaica and Antigua know to their cost, the spiralling effect of such incidents can have a deadly impact on their image. Nothing hurts healthy tourism trade as fast as a crime-ridden reputation, and countries have to ensure that they act fast – and are seen to act fast – to clamp down on criminal or anti-social activities. After all, this doesn’t only benefit tourists, but the local population too.

St Kitts has responded swiftly, rounding up suspects and implementing security measures, but this isn’t always the case. Some Caribbean destinations kid themselves, claiming that crime levels are no worse than in London or other big cities around the world - but that’s completely missing the point. Is it really realistic to compare a tropical island, where the population is generally in thousands, with major cities where the population runs into millions?

Of course, holidaymakers need to be aware and they need to be streetwise. However, they don’t expect to have to adopt the sort of siege mentality needed in some rougher areas of the world’s leading metropolises. On the other hand, it’s also important to keep things in perspective. An outburst of violent crime in Jamaica’s capital Kingston doesn’t mean that its popular north coast resorts are no-go areas. Not only are they on a different side of the island, but there’s a mountain range between them too.

Everyone realises that crime happens and when it happens to tourists there will be a flood of international newspaper headlines. It’s then up to the islands to nip the problem in the bud. Catch the perpetrators and put systems in place to prevent a repeat. Paying lip service to such efforts and failing to take appropriate action fools no one.

Editor’s note:
Definitive Caribbean passionately believes in the beauty and friendliness of the Caribbean islands. Crimes that touch tourists are very rare but as in every other country of the world, they exist. As Sara Macefield says, "It all depends on how swiftly governments respond to negate the problems as to whether you should travel to the destination." Our message to those contemplating a holiday on St Kitts is to keep things in perspective - when did it last happen (never) - is this likely to happen again? Unlikely...

For an update to this story please read Cruise Lines Return To St. Kitts After Armed Robbery by Nevis 1.

For information about what to see and do on St Kitts please see The Definitive Caribbean Guide to St Kitts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jamaica – the world’s first 3D destination film

Travel writer, Sara Macefield, discovers a new dimension in Caribbean advertising.

Jamaica has always been one of the most forward-thinking and high-profile destinations when it comes to advertising. In years past, it carved out a niche as one of those destinations to appear regularly on TV screens in the post-Christmas advertising blitz as it competed with other countries across the world for our attention.

Its memorable TV adverts brought a slice of tropical glamour into British homes, brightening up cold, dark winter nights with glorious shots of dazzling white-sand beaches, ultramarine seas and lush forested mountains. And all to the distinctive soundtrack of the island’s legendary son, Bob Marley and his distinctive One Love anthem.

Now Jamaica is leading the way again with what it claims is the world’s first destination video to be filmed entirely in 3D. This time viewers are drawn even closer to Jamaica’s iconic sights - and the effect is stunning. One of Jamaica’s national symbols, the Doctor Bird, flutters just in front of your eyes as it takes viewers on a 24-hour journey across the island’s most iconic sights in just a few minutes. Even rafting along the Martha Brae river suddenly becomes more real as the punting poles seemingly reach out to touch you.

“While viewers will need to use standard red and cyan glasses to fully enjoy the destination film, it has been released in anaglyph 3D, which means it can be watched on any screen or laptop. The film will also be aired in private viewings and some cinemas around the world in polarised 3D, which requires special screens. This was a conscious decision taken by the eXposure4 team and Jamaica Tourist Board to ensure the widest possible audience enjoyment. The film will be accessible across multi-viewing platforms, including home televisions, laptops and computers, and even mobile phones. Viewers will be able to apply online for free, Jamaica-branded 3D glasses, which will be sent in the post to them. The destination video will be available on the internet on and viewers can also request copies on a flexi DVD.”

Look closely and you will spy some Jamaican personalities too. Watch the enthusiastic barman in the nightclub scene, which was filmed with locals. It’s none other than the JTB’s UK district sales manager Torrance Lewis, while the chilled our Rasta-man who appears works at the Mystic Mountain tourist attraction. Jamaican tourist officials are excited about their latest creation and rightly so, because as you watch the scenes unfold, it really makes you want to go. Full praise to Jamaica for having the courage to devote time and money to such a project.

Shouldn’t it be something that perhaps the Caribbean as a whole should consider? At a time when the region is suffering from falling UK visitors amid recession and ever-rising Air Passenger Duty, wouldn’t this be an ideal occasion to invest in such a campaign. After all, many destinations would kill for the sort of photogenic landscapes and colourful cultures that make up the fabric of these islands – perhaps the Caribbean as a whole should follow Jamaica’s example and make the most of them.

For more island information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Jamaica.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Air Passenger Duty - Unfair and Biased? Sara Macefield Reports...

Could there, at last, be light at the end of the tunnel for the Caribbean in its fight for a fairer playing field where Air Passenger Duty is concerned?

Ever since the spectre of the new tax emerged some years ago, it has been a cause for controversy. And with the second round of increases coming into force earlier this month, the need for reform has taken on a more urgent need.

The main point of contention surrounds the four banding levels that critics say place the West Indies at more of a disadvantage than other destinations further away.
How can it be fair, they ask, that air passengers pay more to fly to the Caribbean than Hawaii?

How indeed? No one can argue with the facts. Hawaii is around 7,200 miles from the UK while, for example, Barbados is 3,000 miles closer. Yet Hawaii is in the less expensive Band B while the Caribbean is in Band C.

The bandings are actually based on the distances to the capital cities of each country – in this case Washington DC and Bridgetown – a formula branded as iniquitous and illogical by Caribbean nations.

In an impressive show of strength and unity, the region mobilised its tourism leaders in an intensive lobbying campaign that took them to the corridors of power at Westminster.

Their strong words and determination brought tea and sympathy aplenty from MPs – but none of the reforms they asked for, even following the change of government. Faced with such an implacable stance, Caribbean leaders knew they could not afford to accept defeat especially as the number of British tourists to the region has already dropped.

Instead, they have changed tack. Amid high-level discussions at last week’s World Travel Market in London, tourism chiefs revealed their latest idea – to replace the current bands with a two-tier system placing European destinations in one band, and the rest of the world in the other.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation says just £1 extra APD on flights in Europe could enable cuts of up to £50 on long-haul flights, and even increase revenue. Suggesting a system with potential to bring in even more money to Britain’s cash-strapped coffers could prove to be too tempting a prospect for the government to refuse – leading to the breakthrough the West Indians have been looking for.

But for now, having delivered their report to the powers that be, all the Caribbean countries can do is wait and hope. They’re not in the mood for giving up – there’s simply too much at stake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hurricane Tomas, a unique insight from Brigitte Maronie at Villa Caribbean Dream

Here we publish an email from one of our friends on St Lucia, Brigitte Maronie, owner of Villa Caribbean Dream - 'a fascinating insight illustrating how everyone was caught out by Tomas - and the chaos it caused', Sara Macefield, travel journalist.

For those of you who did not know:

Hurricane "Tomas" hit us very hard on Saturday October 31st. It was very stressful, because we were completely unprepared. On Friday it was said that it would be a tropical storm and it would be heading out to the open Atlantic. But then in no time it suddenly came straight toward us and changed into a hurricane category 1 and later category 2. The eye passed through St Lucia and St Vincent with a wind speed of 150 km/h but the forward speed was only 10 km/h. That is why it took sooooo long (24 hrs.). It was pouring down rain all this time and everywhere was flooded. I was very stressed out and completely exhausted afterwards. We did not have electricity for 4 days and everything in my fridges and freezer was spoilt! Our telephone lines were not working and after 4 days we could use cell phones, but the internet only came back after 6 days.

Last Friday I had to work my German airline CONDOR - not expecting any arrivals. But they still brought 65 passengers who did not know what had happened here!! More stress again for me, because most of the hotels were closed and the roads were not accessible between Vieux-Fort and Castries and also Vieux-Fort to Soufriere. A lot of bridges were broken. So we had to organize little aircrafts for those people in the night and shuttle most of them to the north, where the damage was not so great. Anyway, we tried to handle it the best we could.

The island is devastated - especially the area around Soufriere. We have NO water in most areas up to now. But people are working feverishly to get things back to normal. We get quite a lot of aid from overseas and also have a lot of international volunteers helping with bringing in goods and fresh water as well as helping with the clean up. The roads are in a deplorable state, but also that is tackled speedily and hopefully things are running much more smoothly by next week. The country will be receiving tourists from November 12th again. Hopefully we have a good high season!!! We need it!

Anyway, just for you to know... I am ok, Noelita and Louis as well as To-To and Lu-Lu are also fine. Our house had only little damage (thanks God!!), but the garden looked like a mine field! We are still cleaning up and do repair works. My next guests will be arriving on November 16th. Until then everything hopefully will be alright.

My heart goes out to the relatives of people who lost their lives and to them who lost all their belongings! It was a very frightening experience for me after living here 31 years and I never had seen something like this. Thanks god, we are still alive. All my friends are ok too. It could have been worse.

I now look forward to welcoming new guests for the high season and hope that we do not get any bad weather within the next few weeks again. It would be great to see some of you again soon too!!! (Editor's note - We believe the best way to support Brigitte and her fellow islanders is to book a holiday now! Please see a review of her property - Villa Caribbean Dream!)

P.S. If you would like to look at some videos check on Youtube. There are lots. Here's a link to one by Mr Arnold Henry - The Aftermath of Hurricane Tomas in St Lucia:

Love to you all .... and let's stay in touch!

Very sunny greetings from St.Lucia!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hurricane Tomas - St Lucia and Haiti Fight On...

It’s the time of year when the Caribbean islands breathe a collective sigh of relief as the hurricane season draws to a close. But this year, it has come back to bite them with devastating results.

Tomas emerged with little warning on the cusp of Halloween to rampage through the Caribbean, causing death and destruction just as islanders started to relax. However, what few outsiders will appreciate is that most islands will have been left unscathed as Tomas concentrated its force on those in its path – namely St Lucia and Haiti. Islands on the periphery of the storm course – notably Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba - also felt its affects, but thankfully to a lesser extent.

Even on St Lucia, it was a trail of two halves with the northern part of the island taking less of a battering while the southern section – around Soufriere – took the full force of the hurricane winds and lashing rain, with roads and houses swept away in the ensuing landslides. Tomas has been declared the worst storm in the island’s history, destroying its lucrative banana crop, and putting the country’s main dam, which supplies the population with fresh water, out of action. Properties such as Ladera have temporarily closed and the race is on to mop up and get back to normal in time for the peak Christmas/New Year holiday season.

As for Haiti – how much more can this poverty-stricken nation take? Earthquakes, cholera and now Tomas but, and you have to take comfort from this glimmer of hope, it could have been so much worse. Tomas is the sort of natural disaster that spares no-one in its path and West Indians are resigned to the fact that such devastation is the price they pay for living in one of the most beautiful corners of the world.

Yet few communities are more adept at recovering from such setbacks. The clear-up operation begins instantly, swinging into action and often resulting in the destinations emerging phoenix-like with a new lease of life.

You only have to look at Grenada, Jamaica and Antigua and others which have emerged refreshed and reinvigorated after such tumultuous events. In these circumstances, many in the tourism industry turn adversity to their advantage by taking the opportunity to upgrade and renew. And it’s with this in mind that those worst affected by Tomas can look ahead and realise that no matter how tough things seem, the strength of the Caribbean islands and their people will shine through.

*Anyone wishing to donate to the ongoing relief effort in Haiti should go to
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