Letter of the Day | Don't be selfish with tourism tax
THE EDITOR, Sir:
In response to Omar Robinson's comments voicing his opposition to the use of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) outside of the tourism industry, I wish to add a few points.
Mr Robinson, who is the current president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), has been quite vocal about this matter. On the contrary, I believe the TEF should benefit all Jamaica. We are the reason why tourists visit.
The TEF Act was passed in 2004 and is funded from a tax (or fee) paid by incoming airline and cruise passengers to fund the development of the tourism sector and improve the overall tourist experience.
A large chunk of this fund is also attributed to the many returning Jamaican residents who visit the island regularly and desperately want to see Jamaica improve and prosper. I agree with Butch Stewart's suggestion to allow Government to use this fund, but only if there is full accountability, and funds are used for national development and improving the social well-being of citizens - health, education and social services, especially.
It is time for tourism to benefit all Jamaica. There is widespread poverty in Jamaica, which impacts crime, a deterrent to tourism. Surely, the JHTA is aware of that.
The country is also heavily indebted, and tied to the International Monetary Fund, which strangles national development and any hopes of improving the country's infrastructure and services, because of lack of funds.
If necessary, the TEF Act should be amended to allow Government to use from this fund for other purposes besides tourism. According to Mr Robinson, "Fifty per cent is used to market the destination, while the other 50 per cent is used to maintain and develop the tourism product."
The tourism product is not simply hotels and attractions; it is all of Jamaica, its culture, its people, our way of life, our music, and so much more.
If some of these funds are invested outside of tourism to improve Jamaica, we all benefit, visitors and citizens alike. Look at what is happening with the Cornwall Regional Hospital, neglected and in dire need of repairs for years, to the point it is now functioning under capacity.
Many hospitals don't have adequate equipment, supplies, etc. Some schools are run-down; we need more classrooms. While I believe in consultation, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association must not be selfish.
We must realise that a large percentage of profits from tourism doesn't stay in Jamaica, as many of these properties are owned by foreign entities. This is why, despite the surge in tourism, we hardly see any change in the economy or way of life of Jamaicans. We must invest more in Jamaica from tourism revenues.