Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Frigate Bay, St Kitts:
Outgoing chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Ricky Skerritt, says aviation taxation and high fuel prices are stifling tourist arrivals into the region.
Skerritt, who is also minister of tourism for St Kitts, was addressing a packed ballroom of delegates attending the CTO's second State of the Industry Conference at the St Kitts Marriott hotel Wednesday night.
Noting that international aviation had become a more attractive source of taxation for governments desperate for revenue, the departing CTO chair likened the situation to the United Kingdom's Air Passenger Duty (APD).
"That tax in the UK is an example of taxation gone crazy," he stated.
Criticising the British for being outright discriminatory in relation to long-haul travel to the Caribbean, Skerritt said the APD had sent the level of ticket-related taxes to an unprecedented high, "raising nearly (£)3 billion annually for the British government to use on domestic programmes which have nothing to do with aviation".
tariffs should be kept low
Skerritt remains adamant that tariffs should be kept at a minimum, adding that it was his "strong opinion" that tariffs should facilitate the delivery of proper security and better service at airports, while enhancing travel-related developments to result in more people travelling, more cargo, and better value for the traveller.
But the APD was just one of many concerns expressed by the outgoing CTO chairman, who handed over the baton to commissioner of tourism for the USVI, Beverly Doty, Wednesday night.
Now proposals pending in the US Congress that include additional travel-related fees, the decline in cruise-ship passengers, the deployment of the ships to the Mediterranean in the summer and regional travel are at the top of his agenda.
In response to the double whammy of increased taxation and higher fuel costs, cruise lines, on the other hand, have slowed down their sailing speeds and minimised the use of airline seats in their own travel packages, he revealed.
This, he said, has resulted in the stifling of home-porting in the region and, as a consequence, new itineraries with shorter cruising distances from more US mainland home-ports and reduced market share for the islands of the southern Caribbean.
Skerritt was, however heartened by a recent meeting with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Shipping Association, where that organisation announced plans to actively begin exploring ways and means to rebuild summer cruising in the region.
Skerritt is urging stakeholders to continue to protect the tourist industry from overtaxation, while at the same time helping to improve governments' fiscal position.
Even more important, he encouraged the region's players to set aside the petty differences "that divide us so we can truly act in a united fashion and firmly position our region in the global market as the most desirable, year-round, warm-weather destination".