The U.S. Department of State on Monday reissued a level two travel advisory for The Bahamas, warning U.S. citizens to “exercise increased caution” when visiting the country due to crime.
However, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday called the warning “negligible”, and insisted that the government will push back on the issue.
A similar advisory was released in January last year.
The U.S. advised that this latest warning was reissued after periodic review with updates to information on crime.
“Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies and sexual assault, is common, even during the day and in tourist areas,” the advisory read.
“Although the Family Islands are not crime-free, the vast majority of crime occurs on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands.”
For U.S citizens who travel to The Bahamas, the advisory urged them to exercise caution in the Over-the-Hill area and the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay in Nassau, especially at night.
Visitors were also told not to answer the door at their hotel/residence, unless they know who is on the other side, and not to physically resist any robbery attempt.
D’Aguilar said the government was surprised by the latest warning, given that recent statistics show a decrease in crime over the previous year.
Overall crime in The Bahamas decreased by eight percent in 2018 compared to 2017.
D’Aguilar said the government is now in talks with the U.S. Embassy on the matter.
“We will meet with the U.S. Embassy and express our displeasure at some of the verbiage in the advisory,” D’Aguilar said.
“I think it’s important for us to continue to present our case. Obviously this takes time and we obviously did not convince them that there was improvement, but the numbers speak for themselves.”
D’Aguilar continued: “The advisory is almost identical to the one last year.
“We are a little surprised by that, a little dismayed by that, because our crime statistics have decreased so substantially, we would have thought that it would have been a better rating.
“I mean, to lump us in the same category as Mexico and Jamaica, to us, seems a little harsh. We thought a lot of the verbiage in the advisory was an exaggeration.
“The Ministry of National Security is looking to exact how many foreign visitors experienced some sort of crime activity or crime incident.
“We feel that it’s negligible, so we are going to push back a little bit.”
He added, “We think that even though there may be areas of pockets of crime, really the effect on foreign visitors to our country is so negligible that it doesn’t warrant the very strong language that they said in that crime advisory. So conversations will continue.”
The tourism minister, however, did admit that there are some problems the government still has to address.
“We are definitely working to correct some of the deficiencies they did point out,” he said. “We are not perfect. It’s not a perfect place. We just think that the language was very strong.”
D’Aguilar further suggested that the advisory will not have an impact on visitors coming to The Bahamas.
“Well, it’s exactly the same travel advisory as last year, and the number of stopovers visitors to our country increased by 17 percent, so I’ll leave it there,” he said.
The latest U.S. advisory follows similar warnings from Canada and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
In December, the Canadian government advised its citizens traveling to The Bahamas to exercise a high degree of caution due to incidents of violent crime and sexual assaults and also warned members of the LGBTQ2 community to consider the risks of traveling to a country where homosexuality is not widely accepted.
Passengers on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Anthem of the Seas received a letter on Boxing Day, signed by Captain Screko Bain, warning them that “Nassau has been experiencing an increase in crime”.
“We recommend guests not to venture too far from the tourist areas and consider participating in an organized tour. Particular areas of concern include the Sand Trap, the Fish Fry and areas of Nassau referred to as ‘Over-the-Hill’ by locals, which should be avoided after sunset,” the letter read.
That advisory was later withdrawn after “gentle nudging” from D’Aguilar.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications