This shocking honeymoon murder should not stop us travelling to Antigua

The shooting of the Mullanys has highlighted the increasing problem of violent crime in the Caribbean. But the way to make the region safe is to keep visiting, says Travel Editor Kate Simon

The shocking murder of Catherine Mullany in Antigua last Sunday has reignited debate about the security of tourists visiting the Caribbean. And although the government of the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda has been quick to point out that this is its first murder of a tourist in 10 years, violent crime is on the increase on the island and across the region.

The killing of a tourist is guaranteed to grab the headlines, but the problem of violent crime is one that islanders have had to endure for some time. Murder statistics for the Caribbean are undeniably disturbing – it is one of the most dangerous places on earth.

According to a 2007 study by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the region has a murder rate of 30 per 100,000 inhabitants, more than four times the figure for North America and 15 times the average for Western and Central Europe.

Jamaica has long been dogged with a poor reputation for security, suffering the ignominy of being dubbed "murder capital of the world" in the past. And although the most recent recorded homicide rate has shown a 15 per cent drop, it still stands at a staggering 49 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the worst in the world.

Trinidad and Tobago has seen its murder rate quadruple over the past decade, with violent crime figures for other places, including the Dominican Republic, St Lucia and Antigua, following an upward trend.

Such a gloomy picture is less inviting than the idyllic tropical paradise painted by the island's marketeers. But the reality is that the victims are usually locals and returning family caught in the crossfire of poverty and drug trafficking; the Caribbean has the misfortune of sitting between the source of cocaine, South America, and the main illegal drug markets – the US and Europe. The spiralling violence is curtailing daily life for islanders across the region – but in truth, it very rarely impinges on the experience of tourists, hence the Caribbean remains one of our favourite holiday destinations.

Gordon Campbell Gray, whose luxury hotel portfolio includes Antigua's five-star Carlisle Bay, just along the coast from Cocos Hotel where the Mullanys were attacked, confirms that the visitor's experience is generally very positive. "I've been going to the island for years and I haven't felt safer anywhere," he says. "We've always had 24-hour patrols, but more to make sure our guests weren't pestered."

He confirms that security arrangements at Carlisle Bay are under review following the murder, but maintains that guests should feel safe. No one has cancelled their booking so far, he says. But other tour operators and hotels have reported cancellations, and the murder is likely to have negative repercussions for the island's tourism industry.

Some 33,000 British holidaymakers visit Antigua each year, and tourism provides most of the foreign-exchange earnings, employment and revenue, amounting to 50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the twin-island state. Around 75 per cent of the workforce is employed in hotels and restaurants.

It's no surprise that Catherine and her husband, Benjamin, chose Antigua for their honeymoon. The island has all the essentials for such a celebration: temperatures commonly in the eighties cooled by the trade winds, low humidity, an average of just 10 rainy days a year, 365 beaches – one for every day of the year, as the island's cliché goes – and high-quality tourist accommodation.

As well as its fly-and-flop assets, there are also a few interesting sights to see, including the ruins of Betty's Hope, Antigua's first sugar plantation, built in the 1650s, and Nelson's Dockyard, the only remaining example of a Georgian fort.

The traditional Shirley Heights Sunday-night jump-up has become such a draw for visitors keen to mingle with the islanders that it has turned into a tourist trap. Long gone are the days when visitors imprisoned themselves in their resorts, fearful of meeting the locals.

Plus, Antigua is one of the easier Caribbean islands to reach from the UK. The VC Bird International Airport hosts British Airways five times a week and Virgin Atlantic three times a week, all-year-round. Both carriers continue on to other former British colonies, including Grenada, St Lucia and Tobago, making multi-centre trips possible, and the inter-island airline, Liat, enables exploration further afield.

Compared to Barbados's "platinum coast", where hotels and resorts appear to squeeze use out of every inch of space along its eastern shoreline, Antigua is relatively undeveloped. But the landscape has been changing. Catherine Mullany's murder comes just as the island has been enjoying a surge of investment in its tourist infrastructure, and increased popularity with holidaymakers.

Carol Hay, director of tourism for Antigua and Barbuda, explains: "There has been major growth in tourism on the island, with an increase in boutique-type properties, offering a more upmarket experience."

She confirms that, in the past year, three luxury hotels have opened: The Verandah Resort and Spa, a 200-room complex on the east coast; Hermitage Bay, offering 25 cottage-style suites on the west coast; and the 114-room Hodges Bay Club, on the north shore. Sandals has had a revamp and Blue Waters is adding rooms. Improvements have also been made to the shops in the capital, St John's, including a large undercover crafts market.

Tourism has been crucial to the prosperity of Antiguans and is key to stopping further incursions by the drug lords. The offer of more than £60,000 as a reward for finding Catherine's killers – made by the Antigua Hotels and Tourist Association and a private businessman – underlines the level of concern locally about her murder.

Meanwhile, Antigua's authorities say they are committed to reversing the increase in violent crime and earlier this year they engaged Gary Nelson, a former Canadian Mountie, as police chief, to shake up anti-crime operations.

Much of the Caribbean's tourist industry is winding down for the low season – this is the time when hurricanes are most likely to hit the region – and it won't pick up again until October. But the murder of Catherine Mullany is likely to dwell on the minds of holidaymakers when choosing a destination for some sunshine this winter.

It will be a tough task for Antiguans to persuade these tourists to visit their island. But as Carol Hay says: "Even at this tragic time, it is important that we maintain a sense of perspective." The fact is, the best way to help the Caribbean become safer for locals and tourists is to continue to travel to this beautiful part of the world.

How to get there
Kate Simon travelled to Antigua with British Airways Prestige Collection (0844 493 0752; ba.com/holidays), which offers seven nights at Carlisle Bay in Antigua from £2,059 per person, based on two sharing, departing October, including return flights with British Airways from Gatwick, private transfers and B&B. UK connecting flights are available from £86 per person from most regional airports.

Further information
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office (020-7258 0070; antigua-barbuda.com).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor