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Travel tax hinges on UK election

Published:Saturday | May 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

WESTERN BUREAU: The controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD), which will attract a further increase to the cost of travelling to Jamaica for those in the United Kingdom this November, seems to be hinged on that region's general election, a news report out of Britain shows.

An article in The Daily Telegraph last week said the three political parties competing in the May 2010 general election differed on the purported 'green tax' that holidaymakers to the Caribbean have been forced to pay since November 2009.

At least two of the political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in their election manifestos launched last week, promised to reform, but not repeal the APD, or replace the tax with "a per-plane duty" that would also be applied to cargo flights.

no mention in labour manifesto

Gordon Brown's Labour Party, the Government responsible for implementing the tax that the region's tourism stakeholders have tagged "discriminatory", did not mention the APD in its manifesto, said the Telegraph report. Under its plans, a family of four flying to the Caribbean (from November onwards) will pay £300 in duty, an increase of 87 per cent.

For passengers travelling in premium economy -an important market segment for the Caribbean - and business class, the increases will be 25 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively.

In response to the latest development, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) says its position remains the same.

"The increases in Air Passenger Duty are likely to have a devastating impact on the economies of Caribbean countries. These changes in the APD will have a major detrimental effect on tourism to the Caribbean and travel by our large diaspora in the United Kingdom," said the organisation.

Reiterating its concerns at both the level of increases proposed and at the discriminatory way in which the Caribbean being treated, the CTO called the Labour Party's initiative "wholly unacceptable ... when our economies are struggling to maintain tourism demand".

per-plane tax

In the meantime, reports are that the Conservatives intend to make the APD a per-plane tax, which they believe would encourage people to "switch to newer and fuller planes". The tax would also be extended to cover cargo aircraft and private jets. The party also would abandon the much-criticised system of distance bands (where people pay according to how far the capital of their destination is from London).

Like the Conservatives, said The Daily Telegraph, the Liberal Democrats would replace the APD with a per-plane duty that would also be applied to cargo flights.

Under current rules, freight aircraft and private jets are exempt from the APD.

They expect the new tax will raise more than £5 billion a year, up from around £2 billion currently.

Liberal Democrats would also seek to recoup an additional £255 million a year through the imposition of a higher rate of duty on domestic flights, for which they claim "alternative and less polluting travel is readily available".