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Caribbean tourism stakeholders celebrate UK travel-tax victory

Published:Thursday | March 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU:

With the announcement by Britain to reform the air passenger duty (APD), the Caribbean region has finally achieved the goal of being taxed fairly in comparison to flights from the UK to the United States.

The announcement, which was made by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne during his budget presentation, will see the current four-band system for the APD modified to a two-band system. Under the new two-band system, all long-haul flights (over 4,000 miles) will be moved into band B, which means UK customers travelling to the Caribbean will pay the same tax as if they were travelling to the United States. The change is expected to take effect April 1, 2015.

Billions in tax revenue

Britain introduced the controversial travel tax in 1994, increasing it regularly, making billions in revenue.

Excited about the prospects, Jamaica's Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill said the move would prove favourable to Jamaica and the Caribbean.

"This is a major victory for the Caribbean community, which has been intensely lobbying for several years against the UK's unfair APD band system which makes it costlier to fly to the Caribbean than to rival destinations like Hawaii in the United States, giving them a competitive advantage," said McNeill.

He added that the unrelenting efforts of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), ministers of tourism across the region, the Caribbean Diaspora in the UK, the World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel & Tourism Council and other tourism partners have paid off.

CTO Chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty, in her response to the announcement, recommitted her organisation's support to its partners, stating, "We will continue to advocate on behalf of the Caribbean tourism sector. We will now proceed to examine all the implications of this very positive development and advise our members accordingly."

Reduction in UK arrivals

Research has shown marked reduction in arrivals from the UK to the region. This is reflected considerably in the Eastern Caribbean, which has suffered badly as a result of the APD.

The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) in celebrating the announcement noted that the disparity in the APD has been a critical factor leading to the decline in arrivals from the UK.

In some Caribbean countries the reports are that up to 40 per cent of total arrivals by air comes from the UK, making any reduction in visitors economically challenging.

"Today, we achieved a major victory as the playing field has been levelled," said CHTA President Richard Doumeng.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com