Members of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) are eager to get the millions of dollars in Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds owed to them by Government.
At the same time, officials of the association have indicated that they would continue to lobby Government to give them a decrease in the recently introduced Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC) levy.
Regarding the VAT refunds, Chief Executive Officer of the BHTA Senator Rudy Grant said he would continue to press Government to pay up what was owed.
He said the BHTA sent out a recent survey to its over 300-strong membership but only about 14 members responded and indicated that they were collectively owed millions.
“Those totalled some $8.9 million, and those 14 members represent about five per cent of the accommodation and direct tourism services members. If that is only five per cent you can understand what the outstanding amount is. But we really want to encourage our members to submit the information so that we can properly lobby on your behalf,” said Grant.
Pointing to the levies that were imposed on the sector in the June budget, Grant acknowledged that they would come to an end on January 1, 2020, and at that time the VAT on the sector would be increased from 7.5 per cent to 15 per cent.
However, Grant said the BHTA had recently outlined some concerns to Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds regarding the pending VAT increase.
“We are concerned about increasing the cost to persons coming to our destination. We would have a consultation with members as well, and I want to give you the assurance that we will continue our discussions,” he told the general meeting.
In the case of the GSC which took effect on August 1 at a rate of $1.50 per day for households and 50 per cent of the existing water bills of corporate entities the hoteliers said it is financially burdensome.
Hoteliers have complained about skyrocketing bills with some hotels on the west coast which normally paid as much as $40,000 per month for water are now having to pay $60,000 for the service.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley had indicated that tourism and industrial businesses could receive an ease, hinting that a cap on payments could be implemented.
However, there has been no ease so far.
During the BHTA’s fourth annual general meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday, Chairman of the BHTA Stephen Austin continued to make a case for hoteliers to get a reduction in the new tax, stating that west coast hoteliers had a private sewage system and used private waste haulers.
“However, they are now faced with thousands of dollars more in costs due to the GSC. We are working with Government and lobbying for them to have a look at the challenge in offering ease of at least 50 per cent to businesses faced with this increase and still having the cost of running their own services,” he said.
Half the funds collected will go to funding the Sanitation Services Authority (SSA) and the other half will go to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA).
“We understand the need for establishments and for Barbadians to pay their way but we believe it would be fair if a reduction is offered in this way [to the hoteliers],” said Austin.
“We recognize this is an urgent matter because members are already starting to engage in discussions with respect to setting rates. So we are treating to this urgently and it is our desire to continue to have those discussions and be able to come back to you some time soon with a decision,” he promised.
He said the BHTA would also continue its lobbying efforts to get Government to make good on a promise to allow hoteliers access to concessions under the Tourism Development Act (TDA) and the Tourism Development Amended Act (TDAA) with the same level of ease with which Sandals accessed those concessions.
It was at the end of October that Prime Minister Mottley made the promise, saying she would ensure there was a “level playing field” across the tourism industry.
Grant said the Minister of Tourism had agreed on the process and a meeting was scheduled for next week so that the Barbados Revenue Authority, Customs, the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc., the Ministry of Tourism and the BHTA and Intimate Hotels of Barbados could discuss the matter.
“We will seek to ensure that there is a level playing field,” he said, adding that the BHTA would also be making a case for stand-alone restaurants to be given the same privileges as hotels when it came to concessions.
“As you know under the TDAA stand-alone restaurants do not benefit from any waiver of duties and taxes . . . The Minister has indicated that he would wish to treat to that as a phase two element. We will continue to keep that at the forefront,” said Grant.