A recent statement by the Dominica Hotel & Tourism Association (DHTA) on the Salisbury protest lacked sensitivity to the plight of the farmers, the DHTA president Gregor Nassief has admitted. But Nassief has defended the rationale for the statement, describing it as sound.

In a joint statement with the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC) released on 12 June, the DHTA condemned "any illegal actions" associated with the previous day's protest, during which villagers blocked the E. O Leblanc Highway to bring attention to the plight of farmers who have been demanding better access roads.

"The parties involved should consider the damage done to our many industries, which provide employment to our citizens," the statement said in part.

This position provoked severe backlash, particularly for the hotel sector which critics felt acted as another mouthpiece for Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

"It has placed a lot of bad publicity on the sector, it played right into the hands of the people who believe that tourism is not interested in the poor," the hotelier and former DHTA president, Athie Martin, told The Sun in a previously unreported comment on the statement.

While it was a joint statement, it was the hotel sector that attracted the majority of criticism with reaction on the blogs was even less kind than Martin's.

"…if you are so concerned about this poor image of Dominica such a call would be more constructive and help portray this "Nature Isle" as a place where organisations such as yours are fair balanced and principled," one blogger wrote.

"The Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association is an affront for corruption and injustice… (it) is nothing more than the Roseau Bourgeoisie class protecting their selfish interest as usual," stated another, in what is representative of the language used by the bloggers.

In a 930 word message to the DHTA membership on 19 June, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, Nassief admitted that the statement "did lack sensitivity" and took responsibility for the repercussions.

"The statement focused on the blocking of the roads as an illegal action and its repercussions to the economy, to tourism and to the reputation of the destination. It failed to directly address the plight of the farmers and the difficulty they have had in accessing their farms over many years. Citizens have a right of road access to and from work, visitors have a right and expectation to enjoy and explore a law-abiding nation and farmers have the right to manageable access to their farms. The livelihood of farmers, therefore, is of equal importance," the DHTA boss wrote in his message, reminding members of the importance of linking tourism and agriculture.

Nassief admitted that the prime minister had called on the DHTA "not to be silent" on the protest, adding that he believed anyone, including the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and ordinary Dominicans, had a right to raise issues of concern with the association and that the DHTA had an obligation to consider these concerns, deliberate on them and reach independent decisions. He also reminded members that the critical issues which the DHTA was addressing on their behalf requited "open and fluid communication between the DHTA and the Government and must never be confused with political bias."

He defended the objectivity of the discussions which preceded a vote on the statement, revealing that the Board was initially against of issuing one but eventually voted eight to two in favour.

"The Board was fully aware that the statement would be controversial and that there would be backlash, but in the end we felt that the economy in general and the tourism industry in particular were being placed at risk."

The DHTA president made a strong defence of the rationale for issuing the statement, arguing that the "severe" disruption impacted guests, employees and service providers and cut off access to basic services including emergency medical services.

"We believe that such actions are incompatible with economic development in general and tourism in particular. It is well known that up to 70% of travellers cite safety and security as their number one concern when choosing a holiday destination," he wrote, maintaining that visitors and potential investors stay away if the destination appears unstable and lawless.

"The DHTA has never condemned the protest but rather the action of blocking a road and its repercussions…I apologise to the Membership for the repercussions of the statement, but I do stand by its intent and core message to protect the industry and all of its stakeholders who have been affected by these actions."