In another two months, the eyes of a restless nation turn once again to the vistas of tanned bodies on white-sand beaches, the hustle of taxi drivers and the bustle of red caps.
Accents will broaden and hands dutifully rub themselves together as wide-body jets disgorge half-baked passengers mad to go out into our midday sun.
Every sinew will have been strained, room refurbished and policy polished to welcome cash-laden visitors in search of warmer climes and sunny smiles.
Immigration and customs officers will be tuned to English and American accents, keen to issue the required entry visa to eager sunseekers.
But all the while, these functionaries will have grown deaf to the more colourful tones of their neighbours and blind to those who look like them, whose purpose and luggage will be rifled through in search of contraband, taxes, imposts, impounding and impositions.
Elsewhere in the land, service staff will alternate between grins and grimaces, depending on the complexion and accent of the patron.
‘Twas ever thus, say our Caribbean cousins of how Barbadians invariably treat them. Truth be told, the phenomenon is indiscriminately applied all through the region.
For we have been so carefully taught to hate our own, to view our kith and kin with deep suspicion while greeting the foreigner with the familiar.
And we have the airline fare prices to prove it.
The base price of a return ticket from Barbados to St Lucia – a distance of 173 km (107 mi) – amounts to $240 or $120 each way. From Barbados, there is an “airport charge” of $70, a “passenger service charge” of $55, a $6.40 “security fee”, and a “ticket tax” of $10.50, in addition to such other sundries as the fuel, booking and security surcharges and “facilitation charges”, amounting to an additional $76.24.
On the return leg, the same base fare of $120 adds “an airport development charge” of $140, an “airport service charge” of $50, a $9.64 “security charge”, more fuel, booking and security charges of $131- and Barbados charges another $10.50 ticket tax – adding a further $208.64.
Thus, a fare of $120 is weighed down by $426.78 in fees and taxes.
And this was during a fare sale by the intra-regional carrier to mark 63 years in the air.
We continue to ignore our domestic economy in favour of fickle foreign inputs in tourism. Witness the zeal with which the administration, eager to comply with the dictates of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, wiped away the corporate tax burden, leaving a disproportionately heavier load on citizens, particularly those who wish to travel to the community to which they belong for business opportunities, family, employment, entertainment and education.
The impossibly high cost of inter-island air travel is due entirely to the quantum of taxation on airline tickets, at levels exceeding 60 cents on the dollar.
We cannot imagine that a raft of passenger fees, charges and levies from domestic passengers could net for the Government of Barbados – or indeed any CARICOM state – more revenue than the fair share of taxes that companies ought to pay for the privilege of profiting from us. It is unconscionable to force Caribbean people to bear the same burden of taxation as airline passengers from the metropolitan source markets in the wealthiest nations on earth.
This at once exposes the inequity of an economy that continues to ignore quite possibly its largest, most enduring tourism market. We need neither snow nor sleet to attract neighbours who are innately more interested in festivals from Cricket to Carnival to Crop Over, from Jazz and J’ounen Kweyol to Junkanoo.
Yet we disdain this most proximate market at our peril.
The clock is ticking down to the assumption of the chairmanship of the Caribbean Community for a six-month period by the Prime Minister of Barbados.
She has travelled the globe, speaking to inequality, inequity and the unfairness of large nations over small. She should now address this most unkind cut of all closer to home.
It is obscene that it should cost less to visit Fort Lauderdale, New York and Boston than to see St George’s, Castries or St John’s. For too long, we have been too keen to heap scorn over into our iconic inter-island carrier which, despite the internecine squabbling of its shareholder governments, quietly manages to become one of the top on-time airlines in the hemisphere.
But this is a secret to most people who have been persuaded to believe as gospel “Leave Island Any Time”.
We have been carefully taught to hate.
Once again, Barbados TODAY calls for a moratorium on these egregious intra-regional taxes and for airfares to represent a truer cost to the travelling public.
We are fully persuaded that a knock-on effect of increased travel on tax revenues, jobs, wealth creation and social cohesion may prove more lucrative than slim pickings from dwindling airline seats.
A government which is serious about rebuilding an economy and building-in resilience can ill-afford to evade the fierce urgency of now that so inhibits the very regional integration upon which we lavish rich rhetoric.