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JetBlue boss warns C'bean gov'ts to be cautious about taxing visitors

Published:Thursday | October 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMSenior Gleaner Writer

JetBlue Airways CEO and president, Robin Hayes, is warning Caribbean leaders to carefully consider how taxes are levied on passengers travelling to the region.

In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the State of the Industry Conference, now on in Willemstad, Curacao, Hayes said he is encouraging those with influence to use the tax option sparingly.

Over the years stakeholders in the airline industry have described the taxes as onerous, saying it’s hindering growth in the region.

"Between US and foreign taxes and fees, travellers can easily be hit with an extra US$150 on top of their airfare — that could be an entire extra hotel night," Hayes revealed.

"We would rather customers have more money in their pocket to spend when they arrive in your communities," he argued, adding that lack of infrastructure development and taxes were two of the issues affecting the airline industry.

Hayes said by lowering taxes he can give better ticket prices and add capacity.

"In cases where the tax has been lowered, we have been able to reduce fares by 30 per cent and double the market," he argued.

His suggestions were however questioned by Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dr Rufus Ewing, who argued that there was a need to protect the revenue base, which is impacted by the taxes collected.

"What are we going to put in place as an alternate to what we are getting?" Ewing asked.

In the case of Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) was established on May 1, 2005 for the sole purpose of implementing the recommendations contained in the Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development (2002) which included the collection of taxes from visitors arriving via air and sea.

Airline passengers are asked to fork out US$20.00, while cruise ship passengers are expected to pay US$2.00.

These monies go directly to the Fund.

The country and its millions of visitors benefit by way of upgraded infrastructure development of tourist resort areas.

The Fund assists specifically with promoting growth and development in the tourism sector, encouraging better management of environmental resources in Jamaica, enhancing the country’s overall tourist experience, and providing for the sustainable development of the tourism sector.