Rumble on the reef: Tour operators fight at Nylon Pool

Passengers from Rhapsody of the Seas and Silver Dawn disembark at the Port of Scarborough on Monday to enjoy tours of the island.  - David Reid
Passengers from Rhapsody of the Seas and Silver Dawn disembark at the Port of Scarborough on Monday to enjoy tours of the island. - David Reid

SECRETARY of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris has strongly condemned a fight which took place on Monday between two reef boat operators in the Buccoo Marine Park, Tobago.

In a one-minute video posted on Facebook, the men were seen fighting and shouting expletives at each other, in front of shocked passengers, including tourists. One of the men was seen holding what appeared to be a long piece of iron.

Two cruise ships – Rhapsody of the Seas and Silver Dawn – docked in Scarborough on Monday bringing thousands of tourists to the island.

A reef boat operator, who said he became aware of the fight after it occurred, told Newsday it was “not a good look for Tobago. It looking bad.

"But," he added, "the media should not blow this thing out of proportion, because these things (fights) does happen all over the region.”

Another operator said he hoped the “unfortunate incident” would not affect the island’s tourism sector, “which is still struggling to build back after covid.”

Newsday understands that two glass-bottom boats were hired to take cruise-ship passengers to the Buccoo Reef Marine Park. However, owing to rough seas, the boats collided while anchored at the Nylon Pool.

The collision resulted in an altercation between the captains of each boat, which escalated into a scuffle.

In a statement on Tuesday, Burris expressed “supreme disappointment, as incidents like these sometimes cause irreparable damage to a destination's reputation.

"We have been working tirelessly to rebound our tourism sector post-covid and such occurrences do not help our efforts.”

Saying she has received official reports from the cruise-ship agent about the matter, Burris said her division is also working on formal correspondence to the passengers and the cruise company affected by Monday’s incident.

She added, “Undoubtedly, this matter highlights the need for formal regulations to be introduced to govern operations across the industry. We are hopeful that the central government's promise of a tourism regulatory and licensing authority, since the dissolution of the Tourism Development Company in 2017, will be made a priority again.”

Burris said in the meantime, “Outside of the work of the police to investigate, once a report is made, we must also determine what actions can be taken.”

Reef tour operators and boat owners are among the tourism stakeholders Burris has directly engaged in addressing Tobago’s offerings. Burris said that engagement would continue.

She said she will also engage her colleagues in the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development, under whose remit the management of marine spaces falls.

“Ultimately, visitors’ and citizens' safety and security remain a priority for the division." she said, and it "reaffirms its commitment to ensuring, as far as possible, that all have a positive and safe experience when visiting sites and attractions.”

Recently, at the Internationale Tourismus-Borse trade show in Berlin, Germany, Burris boasted that one thing that stood out for her during the trip was stakeholders’ response to Tobago’s customer service.

“Generally, what Germans are saying is that Tobagonians are very friendly, warm. When they come to the island they feel welcome, they feel safe. So I am happy to hear that.”

Burris said the island must capitalise on this feedback.

“I think that is something that we have to begin to play on more in some of our marketing. We have to remind them of why they fell in love with Tobago in the first place.”

In August 2021, former chief secretary Ancil Dennis announced the THA was to embark on a three-year initiative to change the service culture on the island.

The first phase of the initiative, led by etiquette expert Ron Kaufman of the Singaporean company Uplifting Service, targeted senior managers and those in leadership roles in the THA and other sectors.

Dennis said, “The intention is to train the entire island, tourism sector operatives and even persons across the public sector, taxi operators – all those involved in any element of service will be trained in customer service.”

The initiative is being facilitated through the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd and the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Institute.


"Rumble on the reef: Tour operators fight at Nylon Pool"

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