St. Kitts & Nevis’ Minister of Tourism & International Transport, Rickey Skerritt, is still seething over the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) tax imposed on travellers from Britain to the Caribbean.
In an interview with Share at the recently concluded Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) 13th annual Sustainable Tourism Conference in Guyana, Skerritt said the departure tax charged on geographical tiers, which rose by eight per cent at the beginning of April, will have a severe impact on Caribbean nations that are transitioning to service-based economies that are largely tourism-centred.
“The British government has every right and responsibility to tax who or what they want,” said Skerritt. “What makes the ADP most troublesome however is that it’s above what we consider to be a reasonable threshold. Airport and related costs need to be paid for. Since 911, security costs have gone through the roof and the global standard now applies to international security and safety.
“We expect there is some level of service fees that would apply that go directly to improving the airport experience and security for travelers. But not a cent of the ADP goes to taking care of those things.
“It’s not a tax on travel and the British government does not apologize for that. They just do it. ADP is their way to get $2.9 billion pounds into their treasury every year and that is what makes is distasteful.
“The British government is saying to every international traveller that you will help to pay for our schools, health care and other services that their government provides for its people So far, they have done it legally. We are concerned, but we can’t change that.
“What we have said is that the way in which you have done it by banding the Caribbean into a group that renders us uncompetitive against neighbouring Florida and other distant competitors like Hawaii by making the tax less to those destinations than the Caribbean is unfair. That’s one point that I believe they have accepted, but have done nothing about.
“We will continue to make that point. At the very least, we must not be disadvantaged in that way.”
Skerritt said he’s heartened by a recently released World Travel & Tourism Council report that indicates that abolishing the tax would create 91,000 jobs and add $4.2 billion pounds to the British economy in the next 12 months.
“My hope is that when the British government really looks at that study and the stakeholders themselves in Britain begin to bring more pressure on the British government, then you will see change,” he said. “We have made the point that Caribbean people living in the United Kingdom, of which there are significant numbers, are being hurt by the ADP.
“We can only speak for Caribbean British citizens because we are getting feedback from them. It’s clear to us that our people are been hurt by increased cost in air travel. This study goes beyond that by saying all British people are been hurt by the ADP in some form or fashion and I am waiting to see what will be the response from the British government. We have presented very scientific work to show that it’s hurting our economy, but the economies of the Caribbean are really not important to Britain. They are very small in the scheme of things.”
With the tax increase and general rise in travel costs, Skerritt said the Caribbean will have to work harder to deliver value.
“The more they spend on air travel, the less they will have to spend on your product, so you have to deliver more for less,” he added. “That is one of the fundamental changes in the marketplace that has happened as a result of the recession in the first instance.”
APD was introduced in 1994 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, as a “green tax”, but there has never been any coherent accounting of how the revenue generated has been used by the Treasury to offset the effects of carbon emissions.
By RON FANFAIR