Sunday, November 6, 2016

Unnecessary Hassle by the British Virgin Islands Customs Department

The following was sent as an email to the British Virgin Islands Tourism Board and to the British Virgin Islands government after an unfortunate yet classically Caribbean jerk around of our dive operator before we were allowed to leave the dock for our dive on November 2, 2016

Hello British Virgin Islands Tourism

My partner Cathy Hayslett and I landed in Road Town, Tortola, on Wednesday November 2, 2016, as passengers on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship.  Our time in port was limited, with a scheduled arrival at 7:00 a.m. and all aboard time at 2:30 p.m.   We chose to dive with the incomparable dive company Sail Caribbean Divers as an excursion off the cruise ship and as this blog post of mine attests we had a wonderful time with that company.  Diving With Sail Caribbean Divers on Tortola, British Virgin Islands

 What we didn't have a wonderful time with, and what threatened to ruin our trip, was the heavy handed activities of a couple of BVI Customs agents who decided that 8:30 a.m. on November 2 was the perfect time to harass our tour operator claiming that their paperwork was not in order and had not been received by the Customs Department.  Consequently our tour operator (and their clients - us) was forbidden from leaving the dock until this issue was resolved.

"This issue" took more than an hour to resolve. It included paperwork from our dive boat being removed from the boat and taken to the BVI Customs office where it was "inspected."  Several phone calls were made from a snotty BVI Customs agent to her supervisor and then when a light rain began to fall your Customs agents just disappeared.  Meanwhile tourists paying for the privilege of enjoying some of the nature of the British Virgin Islands sat on a dive boat twiddling our thumbs and wondering why we chose to waste our time and money in a country that seems more interested in local jerk-around politics than it does in providing a quality experience for its visitors.

Eventually after several more phone calls and conversations with the dive boat crew (all of whom had long-ago submitted their paperwork to Customs) we were allowed to leave the dock - but not before wasting time that could have been spent in the water.  At conclusion of our dive trip we were returned to the dock where we had just enough time for one cold Carib beer before we had to board the ship for our departure. This afforded us ZERO time to learn about Road Town and from the standpoint of your economy, to spend any hard currency in your country.

I have traveled to 72 islands in the West Indies and lived on two of them and this was my fourth time in the British Virgin Islands.  Therefore I am well aware of how the back scratching political system works in the islands.  The BVI have the potential to become a major player in ecotourism (you're already a major player in sailing tourism).  However that potential will be dashed if you continue to jerk around tourists who are the mainstay of your economy.  Allowing some low-level Customs agent who is likely trying to impress her highers up with her strict adherence to the rules might be good for her career advancement but it does nothing for the image of the BVIs and even less for your economy.

I'm not sure who this message should go to in the BVI government but I wish you would forward it to someone who might be able to rectify the situation.  If you want to jerk around a company over false claims about faulty paperwork do it in the afternoon when the dive boats are back at the dock. Don't do it at 8:30 a.m. when paying customers want to enjoy what little time they have in your lovely country.

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