Is Roatan Safe?
If you own or run a business that depends on Roatan tourism, this is the one question you don't want to have to answer. It's a loaded question. And there is no quick, pithy answer. At least, there is no quick, pithy accurate answer.
You will typically hear one of three responses to this question:
- Yes, it is. I've been to Roatan n times and never had anything bad happen.
- No, it's not. [Something bad] happened there just last month.
- As long as you don't do something stupid, you'll be fine.
They are all right... and wrong, at the same time. That's because the question is a general one and the issue of personal safety is a very specific one. In other words, it doesn't much matter if the crime rate some place is 1 in 1000 if you are the 1.
What Should Resorts in Roatan do?
It is said there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. Quoting crime statistics is, therefore, a dangerous game. So Roatan Resorts really have only two options: avoid the topic (this appears to be the default position, and understandably so) or share the context and let travelers make their own, informed decisions. Well, we're obviously not avoiding the topic, so here is the context:
- The population of Roatan is impoverished and growing rapidly (thanks to migration from the Honduran mainland where things are worse)
- Roatan has a developing tourist economy (development/vacation)
- Tourists are (relatively) wealthy when compared with the people of Roatan
- Poverty and wealth in close proximity creates a very dangerous situation
- The situation appears to be more intense in the low season (September to mid-December) when jobs are more scarce
What does all this mean? It means the same thing in Roatan that it means around the world. When desperate people encounter relative wealth, they often turn to taking what they need, sometimes violently so. That happens on Roatan, and it appears to be increasing in frequency. Whether that trend will continue is anyone's guess. It is certainly in the interest of local authorities and the Honduran government in general to protect Roatan's people (residents and visitors) and preserve the significant source of income from Roatan tourism.
Safety Factors To Consider in Planning a Roatan Vacation
With over 1 million tourists in 2012, the world continues to discover Roatan in growing numbers. While many of these tourists are day trippers from cruise ships, there is a growing number of overnight visitors as well. These visitors don't all explicitly consider safety before making their decision, but many do as evidenced by the healthy debate about this topic on Trip Advisor. Here is a short list of considerations in planning your Roatan vacation.
This is from the school of "don't do something on Roatan you wouldn't do in any unfamiliar city". Venturing into the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day with the wrong people rarely works out well. The same is true of wearing, carrying or flashing items of interest. There is literally no need on Roatan for fancy jewelry, watches, the latest electronic gadgets or stacks of $100 bills. So, don't even bring them with you.
On Roatan, you can stay in bustling towns, resort-lined beaches, gated resorts or private homes in relatively secluded areas. There are very different safety concerns for each of these locations. Suffice it to say that most of the serious crime takes place outside of populated tourist areas and gated communities with security guards.
As I mentioned earlier, we see a spike in these safety issues during low season, so the previous two considerations become even more important if you are on island off season.
Roatan is a beautiful place with wonderful people, amazing activities and great opportunity. But it is not perfect. Plan your Roatan vacation with eyes wide open, and we hope to see you on the island soon.