Be firm, fair and respectful
Barbados is still gem of the Caribbean Sea and a paradise for visitors from all corners of the globe.
And it is common knowledge that our world-class reputation is not only justified by our white sandy beaches, exotic rum, delectable cuisine and modern infrastructure; it’s grounded in the warmth and friendly nature of Barbadians.
As a service economy dependent on tourism, we must maintain nothing less than high standards when it comes to the treatment of those who visit our shores, regardless of the guest – be it a street sweeper from Timbuktu or renowned British television host Simon Cowell.
It is for this reason that waking up Monday morning to the damning headline splashed across the pages of the Jamaica Observer, ‘Jamaican woman cites shoddy treatment by Barbadian officials at airport’, was sorely disappointing.
Sonya King, who has lived in Trinidad and Tobago for four years, recounted what she described as a horrific ordeal she and her 14-month-old son Kaleb Joseph endured last Saturday night and Sunday morning at the Grantley Adams International Airport.
According to her, the immigration officer “stamped denied entry in my book and he went further by saying that I’m going back on a Caribbean Airlines plane as soon as one is available and they will also call the authorities in Trinidad to deport me.”
The woman also reported that she was refused water to make tea for her baby and “forced to sleep on the ground on a dirty mattress and sheet which was covered in hair.”
From the outset, this media house declares it casts no blame or shame on either side involved in the matter that is now being investigated by Barbadian immigration authorities, as revealed by Chief Immigration Officer Wayne Marshall in a brief statement issued via the Government Information Service yesterday.
Marshall pledged to communicate the findings of the investigation via the same medium.
Our only hope is that the probe is conducted fairly and expeditiously and the public is not left hanging ad infinitum for the findings.
Of greater concern, though, is the bigger issue at stake – our reputation – particularly after the Shanique Myrie saga.
While commentators have argued that the historic Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling in the Myrie case was a turning point for regional integration, especially the right to freedom of movement for Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals, it was not a golden moment for Barbados.
This country had to pay up $75,000 in compensation to the aggrieved Myrie. And worse, we were subjected to unfortunate comments by Caribbean neighbours who reminded us of the controversial statement made by late Prime Minister David Thompson, “ever so welcome, wait for a call.”
The fact is that in a world of TripAdvisor, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and countless other social media platforms – where travellers can instantly spread a negative message about the treatment they receive in much the same way they can boast of what a wonderful destination Barbados is – this country must do all in its power to guard its reputation jealously.
An ounce of prevention is better than cure. A positive report is far more desired than a whirlwind of damage control.
Every Barbadian, at every level, particularly those who interact with our guests on the frontline, must ever keep in mind that tourism is our business.
Indeed, most Barbadians are warm and welcoming, but there are exceptions that we cannot ignore.
All must be aware that even as we seek to perform our various roles to ensure both visitors and citizens are safe and secure, we equally have a duty to roll out the Barbadian red carpet.