Grenada’s minister of tourism Clarice Modeste said something about the beleaguered regional carrier LIAT at the just concluded Caribbean Tourism Organization State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) here that left some wondering whether she had any idea what she was talking about.
In a troubling display of brazen guilelessness, Modeste all but said LIAT had been delivering cock and bull prevarication by blaming government taxes in part for the high fares it charges.
“I am not a statistician, I don’t know a lot about figures but I know what it costs me to go from point A to point B and when I compare it, I know that LIAT doesn’t compare well. Now the governments are saying that this [government taxes] is not so and I know that sometimes they have done presentations to demonstrate this. So I will not really categorically say that it is untruthful but from the information I have it doesn’t seem so at all,” Modeste told local and visiting media.
It was a shocking and shameless display of a lack of understanding of the system of taxes applied on the Caribbean flying public.
The honourable minister is prone to put her foot in her mouth. How do we know? She said it herself in a demonstration of puerile innocence when she again addressed the media on the final day of the conference to announce that her country would host next year’s SOTIC.
The cheapest return flight from Barbados to Grenada on September 30 costs US$334 if booked tonight. The departing flight from Barbados is US$150 plus US$52 in taxes, while the return flight is US$75 plus an additional US$56.86 in taxes and fees, comprising a security surcharge of $1.25, a Barbados passenger service charge of $27.50, a Barbados security fee of $3.20, a service fee of $10, a Grenada facilitation charge of $7.41 and a Grenada fee of $7.41. There are also additional taxes on the departing charge that include Grenada bag screen fee of $3.70, security surcharge of $1.25, a Grenada concourse fee of $6.00, a Grenada service and security fee of $22.23, a service fee of $10, and if the flight happens to go through Trinidad, a US$10 fee for that country.
On their own, each tax seems small. Together, they add up. Therefore, like the goodly minister would admit, she put her foot in her mouth.
The cost of travel across the region will remain a major talking point as long as the leaders of the countries served by the airline continue to talk the talk in their attempt to bond with the common citizen but refuse to walk the walk in order to solve the problem.
It is as though all they have to offer is the most absurd and empty rhetoric paraded as solutions.
The recent public show of anger by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines is a clear example. Gonsalves, who is chairman of the shareholder governments of LIAT, threatened to starve the airline of funding from his country if it did not improve its service to St Vincent and the Grenadines. The genesis of his frustration was that the airline had not got his country’s footballers to a tournament in time.
Surely, the Vincentian leader was not asleep throughout LIAT’s decades of poor service to the flying public! Or was he? He must have been fully awake and alert during the summer of discontent just a few short years ago when it seemed unable to get any passenger to any destination, while maintaining its disregard for its customers. Or was he? Could it be that it never mattered until the poor service came home to roost?
In April, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica –– another shareholder –– blasted the airline for cancelling a morning flight into Dominica on April 8, which reportedly affected over 40 passengers there.
Surely, he too was not asleep when passengers from other lands were being disaffected! Or was he as oblivious to the implications of what was happening as the airline itself?
These are two leaders who are in a position to do something about the airline’s poor service, its “don’t care” attitude towards customers and little grasp of the consequences of its actions. Yet it only seemed to matter when they were directly affected.
In the midst of public discontent at the flight delays and cancellations, indifferences towards customers, the absence of communication, poor customer service and the litany of woes to which we have become accustomed, Dr Gonsalves and Mr Skerrit will excuse us if we believe that their recent utterances sounded like nothing but outlandish, willful and perverse gibberish.
Maybe the Grenadian minister is not alone in putting her foot in the wrong place.