The chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), St Kitts and Nevis Minister of Tourism, Sen. Ricky Skerritt, has been defending the recent decision by at least two regional governments to introduce new taxes in the tourism sector, even as the region criticises Britain’s increased aviation tax, Air Passenger Duty (APD), which tourism officials say is affecting visitor arrivals to the Caribbean.
Earlier this month the Jamaica government announced that, effective August 1 this year, each arriving passenger whose trip originated abroad will be required to pay a US$20 fee.
CMC News noted additionally, effective September 1, the government will also introduce an accommodation tax for each occupied hotel room of US$1 per night for properties with less than 51 rooms, US$2 for hotels with 51-100 rooms, while guests at properties with more than 100 rooms will be required to pay a levy US$4 per night.
The Baldwin Spencer administration in Antigua recently passed the Airport Administration Charge Act 2012, under which the country’s overall airport taxes have been increased from US$63.75 to US$93.75, and will be added to passengers’ air fare.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the Minister of Tourism Dr Rupert Griffith has said he is prepared to approach Cabinet for funds to lobby the United Kingdom government to reverse the controversial air passenger duty (APD) if the region agrees on a co-ordinated approach to lobby against the tax.
In a telephone interview with the Business Guardian on Monday, Griffith said the government pays £100 towards the ticket price, which translates to a subsidy of almost $1,000 per English visitor to Trinidad and Tobago.
The UK tax was a major issue discussed at last week’s Caribbean Tourism Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica. David Scowsill, president and chief executive officer of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), called for a concerted effort to persuade the UK to discontinue the APD on travellers from that country to the Caribbean.
“Now we will have to go to war,” Scowsill declared. He added: “This APD is a disease that will spread to other countries unless we stop it now. We have to find a different way to persuade the UK government on its view on the APD and this is going to require money, funds for the lobby organisations and one voice rather than independent voices that are shouting about the issue around the world.”
Essentially, the APD places countries in charging bands based on the distance of their capital cities from London. Therefore, flying from London to Los Angeles or Hawaii in the United States is calculated as being the same as to Washington, DC, the US capital, while destinations in the Caribbean are charged at a higher rate. The APD was introduced by the British government in 1994. Since then, there have been several increases, the last of which was in April.
“There has been much discussion around the UK’s APD, which was increased again in April this year. Arguments and pleas by the industry have continued to fall on deaf ears,” Scowsill said.
“The Caribbean industry has been at the forefront of the argument that the structure of APD leaves the region at a considerable competitive disadvantage compared to other destinations.”
Griffith said the Caribbean Tourism Organisation has made two approaches as a co-ordinated group and has spoken to backbenchers from the House of Commons and the House of Lords who are sympathetic to their cause, but the British prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer have refused to budge.
The tourism minister said he expected that, by the time the CTO’s annual meeting comes around in September, a position paper will be ready, which will determine the best way forward.
Griffith said: “We are very concerned about the effect of the APD on tourism in the region and in Tobago, which relies so heavily on European tourist arrivals. We have lobbied in conjunction with the CTO, and if it means that we have to find funding to lobby harder, then I will go back to Cabinet for that funding because as it stands now, we give a tax incentive to passengers by paying £100 out of the £120 that the UK government charges on a ticket.”