OUR BORDERS have been closed for over a year. At times, even our own citizens have struggled to enter the country, far less foreigners coming here through official channels.
But you would swear otherwise, judging from the heated exchanges between the Government, the Opposition and the US Embassy recently.
All spent considerable time last week wrangling over the wording – and then interpretation – of an official travel advisory that said American citizens should not come to this country.
According to the US Department of State, the country has moved from Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel”) to Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”). This is due primarily to restrictions in place to tackle covid19.
However, “crime, terrorism and kidnapping” are also causes for concern. The US advisory further listed no-go areas – areas that have long featured on previous advisories – such as Beetham, Sea Lots and Laventille.
The Opposition declared the advisory was a sign that TT’s status in the world had fallen on two counts: management of the health situation, and crime. It further pointed out that the specific no-go areas listed in the advisory all fall within PNM constituencies.
As a result, the US Embassy clarified that its advice is “apolitical in nature.” The Government condemned the UNC for “highly reckless and irresponsible public utterances and publications” and for showing “no regard whatsoever for accuracy or context.”
But it is precisely accuracy and context that leads us to question the relevance of these kinds of advisories in the first place.
US personnel may well have no choice but to heed these warnings, but what proportion of visitors consider these materials before travelling here?
And assuming travellers still concern themselves with these rather bureaucratic notices, did we not realise, before last week, that the US had already warned visitors to think twice about coming to TT? What was the impact of that warning, back when the borders were open?
These advisories, coming through official channels, are perhaps important when it comes to our international reputation. At the same time, the modern tourist has long moved beyond consideration of such documents.
Travellers now operate on the basis of a far wider and richer range of tips and insights: some from word of mouth and much from the internet, with its flood of travel sites and informal ratings platforms. Marketing, our tourism product and the quality of service in the tourism sector are more pertinent considerations.
Or they would been if our borders weren’t closed because we have not got the covid19 situation and the vaccine shortage under control.
So it is disheartening to see Government and Opposition officials waste time on the wording of other governments’ advisories and press releases when they should be working together to deal with that re-emerging crisis and reopen the country.