The country’s bread and butter tourism sector could be slapped with yet another tax as the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration presses ahead with its economic recovery programme.
The cruise sector, which escaped additional taxes in the first phase of the three-phase Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan announced by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mia Mottley on Monday, is likely to be the next target, it was revealed today by Roseanne Myers, the outgoing Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).
Myers gave little to no details of the plan, but said in her final report that the subject was discussed with the Social Partnership and would likely be implemented as part of phase two of the plan.
“We did moot the tax on the cruise sector. It was decided by the Government team that that would be in phase two and that we needed to do some more work with respect to addressing the cruise sector that we are committed to,” she told those gathered at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre for the BHTA’s annual general meeting.
In presenting her $1.2 billion austerity Budget on Monday, Mottley said the tourism sector would have to do the “heavy lifting” as her administration moves to drive down the island’s debt of just over 170 per cent of gross domestic product, close the gaping deficit and shore up the dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The plan includes the introduction of an Airline Travel and Tourism Development Tax of US$35 for passengers flying within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and US$70 for those flying outside CARICOM; a hotel room tax of US$2.50 per night for the B Class properties and apartments, US$5.50 for the A Class and US$10 for luxury resorts; a ten per cent tax on homestay programmes and a levy on tourism services.
Mottley, who addressed today’s meeting, made no mention of the proposed cruise tax, but said there would be some more heavy lifting “that is not fiscal”.
The Prime Minister, in her first address to the BHTA in her capacity as the island’s leader, said changes to data collection and the processing of passengers would be made at both Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) and the Bridgetown Port to improve efficiency, as well as the experience of visitors and Barbadians returning home.
She gave few details, but said there would also be a review of the embarkation and disembarkation (ED) card, since they “no longer serve the same purpose” for which they were designed when they were introduced ten years ago.
Mottley said Government had already alerted the remaining Social Partners – the labour movement and private sector – and that Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds would “lead in organizing it”, while a meeting with GAIA workers would be held “over a two-day period within the next few weeks”.
The Prime Minister said there was “a lot of cloud and fog” to get through at the port, and stressed that “if we don’t get those two ports of entry correct then much of what we are doing is compromised by the time they get to you and the rest of the visitor experience”.
She also revealed that officials from the ministries of home affairs, tourism and national security, in consultation with the Social Partnership, would explore ways to quickly ensure the necessary technology was in place for data collection and to ensure a more seamless experience through the ports of entry.
In her address to the approximately 200 BHTA members, Mottley expressed disappointment that while tourism arrival numbers had increased over the years, tourism receipts had fallen from about $2.3 billion in 2007 to about $2.1 billion last year, a long way below the $3.5 or $3.6 billion she believed the sector should earn each year.
Meantime, BHTA Chief Executive Officer Rudy Grant said the non-profit-makiing private sector tourism trade association was working closely with the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc and the Ministry of Tourism on continuous improvements at GAIA to raise the quality of service there.
“We have agitated, for example, for the removal of immigration on departure. That is something that has already been raised with the new Minister of Tourism and we will continue to agitate with respect to those things on your behalf,” Grant told the BHTA gathering.