I am writing out of concern regarding the very offensive approach of one particular Customs officer at Jolly Harbour, and the negative implications this person’s behaviour may have for the country.
I am frequently getting reports of the aggressive and intimidating way in which this officer treats visitors and locals alike who are seeking clearance into Antigua. This manner of treatment has caused many repeat and first time visitors to openly state that they would not return to Antigua.
While I am troubled about the negative influence this officer’s behaviour is having on the businesses in Jolly Harbour, my greatest concern is about the effect this will have on our tourism industry if it is being repeated up and down the Caribbean and elsewhere that this one bad apple is treating people unkindly. Potential visitors to Antigua have many other options to choose from in this highly competitive industry and will probably be influenced to go elsewhere.
As an Antiguan national, I think this person’s interest in tourism and the value that the industry holds for our twin islands should reflect a positive approach in welcoming visitors to the island, especially while performing official duties as a Customs officer.
Anyone who is employed by Customs and/or Immigration sets the pace for the arriving visitor as they are usually the first point of contact, and with tourism being our main industry, it is essential that while visitors must comply with the laws of the country, they are not treated in a hostile manner from the moment they set foot on Antiguan soil.
I do fully understand that Customs officers are supposed to be vigilant in order to protect the country from being undermined, as is the duty of Customs officers all over the world, since when viewed from a number of different angles, the position is indeed very important. But we all know that a person can be assertive when carrying out his/her duties without being aggressive, obnoxious and ignorant.
Personally, I fully respect the authority of Customs and other related government departments that work hard to prevent our country from being breached by criminal elements. And while I am sure this cannot be the easiest of jobs, I believe that those who choose this line of work would have given it a lot of consideration before they made that career move.
I sincerely hope that this officer, and any others who exercise their duties in a similar, undesirable fashion, would consider adjusting their attitude and endeavour to carry out their duties in a firm, but pleasant manner.
The Customs Department should probably look closer at how its employees carry out their duties, and some suggestions are to do spot checks, regular evaluations, and engage in training sessions to impress upon the officers that charity begins at home and tourism is everybody’s business.
The survival of the tourism industry and, by extension, the nation of Antigua & Barbuda depends on the first impressions visitors form when they enter the country. And a vigilant, but friendly Customs officer can make for a lasting good, first impression.