Inside St Lucia: Is ABTA Putting Profits Before Protection?

The inclusion of St Lucia as one of 12 ‘destinations to watch’ in ABTA’s 2018 Travel Trends Report was a coup for the island’s extravagantly funded tourist marketing efforts. But ABTA’s decision to sweep St Lucia’s violent crime epidemic under the carpet raises serious questions about its commitment to tourist safety and protection.

“In 2018 a year of festivals takes place in this friendly Caribbean paradise, all set in crystal clear waters with coral reefs and brilliantly coloured fish, so come and join the carnival,” screams ABTA’s report.

It presents St Lucia as a vibrant, exciting place, the perfect friendly island paradise, encourages people to sample the food, rum and music of the Soleil Summer Festival in May, and attend the “must see” St Lucia Carnival event in June and July.

St Lucia offers wonderful experiences in abundance. Tourism is an important part of the island’s economy and, on the whole, it is a wonderfully friendly place.  We can understand why ABTA, the association of travel agents and tour operators, is keen to associate itself with this popular destination and help itself and its members to a greater slice of St Lucia’s tourist bounty.

Where we do have concerns, however, is the scant detail dedicated to tourist safety. ABTA’s report lifts information from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) website, but makes no mention of crimes including murder, armed robbery and sexual assault on tourists and neglects to mention the FCO’s advice for tourists to take particular care during the island’s festival season.

The brutal rape of British tourist while on holiday in St Lucia over the Easter weekend adds to a catalogue of violence against visitors that includes Georgina Mortimer's rape and the murders of Roger Pratt, Gloria Greenwood and Oliver Gobat.

In recent months we've heard of a British tourist being robbed at gunpoint in Gros Islet and tourists being assaulted, robbed and hospitalised while shopping for food in Castries.

These cases are the very tip of the iceberg. St Lucia is aware of the damage that crime can do to the island’s reputation as a tourist destination and there is pressure on victims from all levels to stay silent about their experiences.

ABTA’s report advises visitors simply to “take care when walking alone off the busy main roads and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, particularly after dark.” This is tokenistic, at best, and is insufficient for the risks tourists now face in St Lucia.

We appreciate that ABTA wants to help its members sell holidays and that the major spending on tourism marketing made by the St Lucian Government will have strongly encouraged ABTA to include the island in its list of destinations to watch.

But ABTA needs to live up to its values. The ABTA Offer says it provides “support, protection and expertise” to travellers. Sadly, its offer of protection seems limited to the financial protections associated with package holidays sold by its members (for which tourists pay a premium).

It is irresponsible to encourage tourists to visit a destination with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, where rape and armed robbery are common and attacks on visitors seem to happen with increasing regularity, without also alerting potential visitors to the dangers and providing them with the appropriate level of advice.

These additional pieces of FCO security advice for visitors to St Lucia should also have been included:

  • Make sure your accommodation is secure. This also applies if you are staying on a yacht
  • Only use licensed taxis and take particular care at late night street parties, especially during the festival season
  • Leave valuables and travel documents in a safety deposit box or hotel safe
  • Check that the hotel safe is securely fixed before using it to store your items
  • Don’t stop if you’re flagged down by pedestrians. Keep car doors locked when driving

We don’t say that tourists should avoid places with high crime rates like St Lucia altogether. Most tourists to St Lucia will not experience any issues beyond being regularly hassled for “donations”, especially if they remain inside their hotel resorts where they are protected by tall walls and armed security guards.

But St Lucia is a dangerous place in a spiral of decline and tourists who venture out on their own are particularly vulnerable, especially around festival season. Those considering a trip to St Lucia should do so with full knowledge of the facts so they can weigh up the risks and take the steps necessary to protect themselves.

ABTA’s failure to address those risks properly in its destination guide suggests that it is putting its profits and those of its members ahead of protecting its customers.


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