Some of Barbados’ long-time and most frequent visitors appear to be wary about the suite of tax measures imposed on the tourism industry – leaving them with a “very nasty taste”, on the verge of cancelling future trips or possibly slashing the length of their stay.
Barbados TODAY contacted a number of frequent visitors who suggested the Prime Minister Mia Mottley needed to reconsider the taxes imposed on the sector during the June 11 mini-budget.
A regular visitor who took his concerns to the Prime Minister in an email said he feared many fellow nationals from the island’s number one source market – the United Kingdom (UK) – would choose other destinations.
Describing the measures as “foolhardy”, Michael Bowler, who is booked to take his 23rd Barbados vacation with his wife later this year, told Barbados TODAY he was on the verge of cancelling “as we are very opposed to these taxes”.
“I think that Barbados is about to find out that Barbados needs tourists more than tourists need Barbados. This is foolhardy policy, and it needs to be stopped before very real damage is done,” warned Bowler.
Effective July 1, a Room Levy was introduced at a rate of US$2.50 for B Class, US$5 for A Class and US$10 for luxury hotels per room per night, Mottley, who is also the Minister of Finance, announced in the mini-budget.
A Product Development Levy of 2.5 per cent on Direct Tourism Services was also introduced on July 1, while a ten per cent tax on all shared economy was implemented on August 1.
Mottley had also announced that effective October 1, passengers flying within the Caribbean would pay an Airline Travel and Tourism Development tax of US$35, while passengers flying internationally would pay a fee of US$70.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already warned that the departure tax could harm the bread-and-butter sector. Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds, while acknowledging that the tax would cause some level of discomfort, insisted that it was an investment that was needed to tackle some of the island’s economic challenges.
Bowler, who described the measure as a “holiday ransom on visitors”, said he was strongly considering cancelling his trip, adding that he had sent “numerous emails” to the Prime Minister and had not received a response.
“We are now seeking to cancel what would have been our 22nd visit to Barbados. Clearly no one in authority gives a damn about the feelings of longstanding visitors. This has left us with a very nasty taste,” he said.
In his email, shared with Barbados TODAY, Bowler outlined that he and his wife were due to vacation here in November but was “most unhappy” after learning that his trip would attract an additional US$195, which he was not prepared for.
“Whilst we understand the financial dilemma facing Barbados, we are most unhappy about the costs which are being forced upon us,” he said.
“Prime Minister, these taxes will alienate the tourists. They are very bad call and because of these taxes we will be seeking to cancel our holiday to Barbados,” he added in the email.
Regular Canadian visitor Alex Currie, who has been coming to Barbados for the past three decades and has spent as much as seven weeks at a time, said he would be reducing the time spent here as a result of the new measures. But he said that he did not foresee a grave impact on his future visits.
While the room tax would not affect him and he considered the departure tax of US$70 to be “insignificant”, he was “still likely to come but maybe reduce my stay by three to seven days if I felt it too much,” he said.
Currie reasoned that the removal of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) would offset some of the costs, but quickly pointed out that when the Value Added Tax (VAT) was raised from 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent in 2020 as outlined in the budget, he would then decide how often he would vacation here.
“I think there is a short term possibility that some new travellers will stop and think about the taxes being applied and perhaps be more diligent in comparing destinations,” he said, adding that Barbados had long been considered one of the more expensive destinations in the region.
But he said he did not believe the taxes would be a deterrent to regular visitors.
“I do not think these taxes will deter regulars such as us, and over the long haul it will get absorbed into the background,” said Currie.
“There is not much that I can see on the horizon that will deter me from coming to Barbados short of a huge increase in crime to the point it is unsafe (which poverty can generate) or civil war,” said the 74-year-old pensioner.
Insisting that the Barbados economic problems could not be fixed overnight, Currie said: “Accordingly, you have to adopt an attitude that can be describe by the following: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So I see this as future of small bites to get this thing manageable.”
The boss at one regional airline service told Barbados TODAY he had already stated his dissatisfaction with the new taxes particularly the US$35 departure tax, which he argued could deter people within the region from visiting Barbados.
Speaking on condition of anoymity, he said “the numbers collected in taxes at the airport are small compared to what is lost if they don’t come”. (MM)