A group of people board the Morning Star glass-bottom boat to tour the Buccoo Reef in Store Bay, Tobago, on Tuesday.

Camille McEachnie

The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is adopting a hardline approach to touting on Tobago’s beaches and will be using joint security patrols to stop the practice.

Speaking at the post-Executive Council media briefing yesterday, THA Chief Secretary and Secretary for Tourism Ancil Dennis said he will not allow any of the 10,000 visitors expected in Tobago over the long Easter weekend to be harassed by touts.

“We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that there will be a collaboration between those divisions, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard … and the Defence Force Reserves … ensuring that the situation with touting does not continue during this period,” Dennis said.

Dennis gave the assurance in the wake of news that the THA’s Buccoo Reef Marine Park User Policy was not adhered to or enforced and the tours had returned to the beaches and were harassing beachgoers.

Yesterday, he said new measures had to be put in place as the softer approach of expecting reef tour operators to follow the THA policy guidelines was not working. He also said the patrols would ensure COVID-19 protocols are followed, including the 50 per cent carrying capacity of reef boat operators.

He said reef patrol officers will now be part of the operations, ensuring boat owners follow the THA’s guidelines.

Dennis said the action was necessary to bring safety and order to the marine park and restore its tarnished national and international image. He said visitors had complained repeatedly about their experiences.

“There are numerous serious complaints about how persons operate within the marine part and you don’t have to listen to me, go to Tripadvisor. Go to Facebook,” Dennis said.

He said complaints ranged from overloading boats and illegal substance usage onboard the vessels to general harassment of tourists.

Dennis reminded that in July 2020, just after the domestic borders reopened, different THA divisions and the reef tour boat operators discussed improving the visitor experience. He said out of the consultation came a Memorandum of Understanding governing reef operations that included a ticketing system with a THA-authorised booth and allocating seats to boat operators.

Guardian Media reached out to Buccoo Reef Tour Operators PRO Michael Frank for comment on the THA’s new approach to achieving compliance on the user policy. Frank reiterated that the new system brought financial hardship to some operators and in many instances, operators had to wait more than one week for a boatload of visitors.

He said in some cases the ticketing system was unnecessary, as some vacation packages included tours. The reef tour boat operator also said there was a challenge with the ticketing system, as repeat and recommended customers preferred using specific operators, making the ticketing system unnecessary.