EDITORIAL: A word of advice - double check the advisory

THERE has been a lot of talk in recent days about the travel advisory issued by the US Department of State to visitors.

US citizens were warned to exercise increased caution – and told that violent crime such as burglaries, armed robberies and sexual assault were common in tourist areas in New Providence.

Grand Bahama and the Family Islands did not escape the alert, with the US noting caution for those areas too – and there was an outright prohibition for US government staff from visiting the Sand Trap area in New Providence.

It all sounds very serious – and Bahamas government officials duly stepped up with words of reassurance.

But the question that lingers is – how serious is the problem?

Now of course we would be remiss in failing to note that one crime is too many – but what is the extent of the problem facing visitors.

Around six million visitors visited The Bahamas in 2017 and 2018 – how many of those were victims of crime?

Well, as Ed Fields notes in this article on page 7 today, the numbers are small indeed.

According to the crime statistics, US visitors in 2018 were the victims in four armed robberies, five sexual assaults, three of which were in Nassau, one in Eleuthera and one in Grand Bahama. There was a single burglary/robbery and no murders.

The figures in 2017 weren’t much different. Again, a single burglary/robbery, three armed robberies and two sexual assaults. Again, no murders.

As Mr Fields notes, the total of 30 offences against US visitors from the crime statistics in 2018 represent a tiny 0.000005% of overall crimes. One wonders if they wouldn’t face more risk had they stayed at home. Further than that, some of the offences that visitors fall victim to will likely be perpetrated by their fellow tourists.

In fact, there’s more to this advisory – let’s zero in for a moment on that reference to the Sand Trap. As Mr Fields points out, that reference to the Sand Trap came about following an incident at a bar in 2016. The bar is now gone, so what are people being told to avoid there? It almost feels as if the reference has just been carried over from previous alerts without amendment, someone sitting in Washingon regurgitating old stats without checking.

We must always be vigilant when it comes to crime, and focus on areas where genuine problems exist to try to ensure they don’t continue in future – such as when concerns were raised about jet-ski operators and the government set about improving the focus on that sector.

However, at the same time, we should recognise that for vast majority of visitors, their experience of The Bahamas is a crime-free one.

We should not neglect the concerns that other countries have for their citizens – but nor should we overstate them. And just as we pledge to hold our own government to account, we should not take the word of others as gospel truth either.

The goal is always to better – and exaggerating matters will not help in reaching that target.