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Hassle, taxes hindering tourism’s take-off

Published: 
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

High and seemingly ever-increasing taxes on the aviation industry, airport hassling, the need for visitors to acquire a separate visa for every stop-over on what is advertised as a “multi-destination experience” and more, are proving to be intractable impediments to the achievement by Caribbean tourism of its full potential. The taxes, duties and the airport hassles have an impact even more on Caribbean nationals flying around the region to do business and to have vacations with friends and relatives. 

Figures from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) for the first six months of 2014 illustrate the problems. Internal travel between and amongst the countries of Caricom fell by an average of over four per cent. And this has taken place while there has been a 4.3 per cent growth in the arrivals of stay-over visitors to the region.

For readers to get a sense of the importance of this industry to the Caribbean here are a few figures from international tourism agencies such as the UN World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel and Tourism Council and the CTO. For the six-month period, January to June 2014, revenue spent directly at hotels by tourists rose by 7.9 per cent moving from US$143.86 to US$155.26, the estimates are for a five per cent growth next year.   

In the Caribbean, tourism and the aviation sector facilitate and support some 140,000 jobs and contribute US$3.12 billion, roughly 7.2 per cent of Caribbean’s GDP, the figures given by Peter Cerda, Regional Vice President, the Americas of the International Air Transport Association to the CTO conference in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

Secretary General of the CTO, Hugh Riley says “one in every ten jobs in the Caribbean, as well as one of every five dollars of foreign exchange earnings is directly attributed to tourism.” The Caribbean is said to be the most tourism-dependent region in the world. Against such a background, governments, the owners and managers of airports in the Caribbean in their quest to get all they can from the industry extract large percentages of an airline ticket through duties and taxes.

Recently, the airports at Montego Bay and Kingston in Jamaica increased airport tariffs by 100 per cent. “The issue of taxes and charges in the region transcends the formal breaches of global standards and recommended practices. The simple truth is that this region is a very expensive place for airlines to do business,” says the IATA vice president for the Americas.

On the hassle involved in travel, Caricom countries faced with the understandable difficulties of managing and scrutinising visitors to the region have employed long and complicated processes for potential visitors to acquire visas, made even more difficult if the visitor wants to stop at a few of the countries which are often sold as “multi-destination” islands. 

Apart from the continuing hassles associated with travelling for Caricom nationals notwithstanding the existence of the Caricom passport, uncertain-scheduling by Liat and CAL, the contradictory security checks which require that passengers who have gone through security checks at one airport must disembark from the secure confines of the aircraft to go through security at another airport and re-board the same aircraft to continue on their destination.

The lack of “broughtupcy” and strategic training displayed by many customs and immigration officers and attendants of all kinds, the struggle our people have with serving white foreigners, believing they have to drag our historical past into every encounter with a white face, all contribute to the real burdens of the travel and tourism industry.

What is even worse, there is the practice of self-hate which leads us, officials and citizens alike, to be antagonistic and disrespectful to each other in our interactions at airports. The case of Shanique Myrie of Jamaica attempting to get into Barbados is a classic example of how we disrespect each other.
 

What is most aggravating about the situation is that there are solutions. “Well, the cost of travel within the region is a little high; but they treat you so well,” is a hope which may come from the mouth of a traveller, says CTO SG, High Riley.

Rufus Ewing, Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, told me at the CTO conference that his government needs to be persuaded with researched figures on the benefits that would accrue to his government if taxes on the industry were lowered to gain from increased arrivals and expenditure.

Brian Challenger, the former CEO of Liat and present chairman of the Aviation Task Force appointed to find ways out of the self-defeating taxation escalation and travel hassles, offers the decades-old solution: Liat and CAL must combine their resources. The full integration of tourism into national economies so that several industries and sectors benefit is another economic strategy that is not new. It is part of the rationale for the Caricom Single Market and Economy still waiting to be fully implemented.

To counter the need for a tourist say from China to acquire a visa to Mexico, former tourism minister of that country, Gloria Guevara-Manzo said her government did the simple thing: all foreigners in possession of legitimate US and Schengen visas could use them to enter her country. 

To be continued 

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