Executive Interview with Tourism Minister
Trinidad and Tobago’s state of emergency
Trinidad & Tobago are suffering from a current state of emergency and curfew. Here, Rupert Griffith, the Tourism Minister talks about the impact on tourism and crime with Johnson Johnrose of the Carribean Tourism Organization at World Travel Market, ongoing in London.
JOHNSON JOHNROSE: I want to talk a little bit about the curfew and state of emergency because that has impacted on Trinidad’s image as a tourism destination, hasn’t it, but there’s a concern that we have a state of emergency, first of all, but things are problematic in Trinidad.
RUPERT GRIFFITH: Well, that in Trinidad, and look, today, you have a big demonstration right here in London with the students, and last August you are still arresting people who burned half the town down, almost half the town down, but that aside, to answer your question, there is crime in every country, and what we did, we took a very bold step to say, hey, crime cannot continue to prevail the way it is, and we have imposed a state of emergency where we really cornered the criminals in a curfew period. We removed most of the guns on the streets, the ammunition, broke up the gangs that were creating havoc in some places, and we have brought control to that now. And I want to tell you on Monday night, the state of emergency no longer exists, and the curfew has been placed from 11:00 pm to 4:00 am. That will allow the authorities to do the kinds of things to clean up whatever remnant of the crime is left. What that suggests, and we are getting credit from around the world for doing that; in every country there is crime. We have imposed that sacrifice on the nation so that when you and other visitors come to Trinidad and Tobago, you can feel safe, and they will be safe, and similar for our citizens.
JOHNROSE: But did Trinidad take a hit as a tourism destination.
GRIFFITH: Well, yes and no. Vacation travel there was no significant decline in vacation travel. Where we saw a decline was in business travel. That is because the businessman has the flexibility. Let’s assume he wanted to go to Trinidad in say August this year. He can put it back for November, travel in November, do his business, because he has that control.
JOHNROSE: Or he can put it off altogether and do business somewhere else.
GRIFFITH: But they haven’t been doing that. What they are doing by putting it off, they reschedule it, not cancel it, they are rescheduling it, not canceling. And they apparently anticipatedwhat we were doing, because the state of emergency no longer exists as of Monday, and we notice most of the rescheduling took place in November, December, January, and, of course, in our big flagship period, the Carnival. There is no significant change in the bookings in those areas.
JOHNROSE: As Minister of Tourism, are you relieved that the curfew no longer exists?
GRIFFITH: Well, I saw it as a necessity to bring the kinds of control against crime and lawlessness in the best interest of the nation and it served its purpose. And at the moment, we realize that we have crime under control; we removed it, and the nation is very happy for it, people feel better. Being here from since Monday at the World Travel Market, a lot of people came up to us and said listen, we really admire your government, because you had the boldness and the strength to impose a state of emergency, impose a curfew to bring the control of crime down and the control of the society, and we are very happy for it.
JOHNROSE: There has been complaining.
GRIFFITH: Well, you know, some of them have, I agree, but some of them have learned to adjust. And as a matter of fact, some of the business communities said, know that we have adjusted, and we have our system going. You all removed it, so we don’t have to readjust. But that’s a way of life – you ask people to make sacrifices, some will be happy, some will not be.
JOHNROSE: Is crime really down?
GRIFFITH: It is significantly down, yeah, significantly down. Since we imposed that curfew and state of emergency, there was not one crime against any visitor in Trinidad and Tobago, not one.
JOHNROSE: But typically there have not been crimes against visitors to Trinidad and Tobago.
GRIFFITH: That’s not true, that’s not true; in Tobago mostly and Trinidad, but there was not one since we imposed that…
JOHNROSE: But there was no curfew in Tobago.
GRIFFITH: Yeah, there was no curfew in Tobago, but the state of emergency was there, and the state of emergency, really, allows the national security forces to impose certain operations without having to run, get a warrant of certain things.
JOHNROSE: So you think it’s the state of emergency that has stopped crime against visitors in Tobago, because it’s not like it was out of hand.
GRIFFITH: It was never out of hand in Tobago, but there were some crimes against visitors. What I am saying to you is, since we imposed that curfew, that state of emergency, there is not one record in crime against any visitor. That’s what I am saying to you, so that has to be significant.
JOHNROSE: How about against locals?
GRIFFITH: There will always be crime. What we found, however, because of the imposition of the curfew, there were more domestic time crimes – you know, husband and wife or siblings or what have you – than what you call public or open crimes.
JOHNROSE: It went from outside to inside.
GRIFFITH: To inside. I don’t know what that suggests, but the jury is still out on that analysis. Maybe women and men realize, well listen, we are spending more time together and all of whatever anxieties may have existed started coming out in close proximity, and it resulted in some domestic violence. But let’s face it, in reality there is always going to be, you know, domestic violence, there’s always going to be crime in every nation. You show me a nation without crime. Look at the young people here today – a big protest going on in front of a big conference; I mean, not a congress, a parliament building. Look at last August – I saw on the TV this morning, they are still looking for terrorists, some of the people who burned places down. Did that affect tourism in London? I don’t know. And if it did, how long would it be, and should London impose a state of emergency or curfew? We had the strength to say, nation, we are not happy with the level of crime, we need to bring some control of it, we need to get rid of the gangs, which was a growing thing. You can’t find the gangs now, and we removed most of the guns that were on the streets; we removed them, the police brought all of them in – thousands of guns and ammunition.