Over a year after hoteliers were given a promise by Government that they would be able to more easily access concessions under the Tourism Development Act and the Tourism Development Amendment Act, nothing has changed, they have claimed.
Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) officials also pleaded with the Mia Mottley administration to go back to Parliament to provide clarity to some tax measures that were implemented earlier this year.
Chairman Stephen Austin reported that members were still coming up against a cumbersome process when they tried to access concessions, complaining that “the playing field is still not level”.
He said: “We have been struggling and members have continued to be frustrated by accessing these concessions.
“The procedure to access concessions is cumbersome and outdated.”
In October 2018, Prime Minister Mia Mottley gave the assurance that her administration would be creating a “level playing field” across the industry, allowing hoteliers to access the approved concessions the same way in which Sandals was accessing them.
She said then: “Immediately, I can say that for those persons in the Barbados hotel sector who now currently have to go every two or three weeks to get renewal from the Ministry of Tourism, I have indicated to the Minister of Tourism that is unacceptable and that they should equally be allowed the same benefit that Sandals has now.”
But a visibly annoyed Austin Austin told the BHTA’s fourth quarterly general meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that there has been no improvements in the process over a year later.
He said that there continued to be “procedural runaround”, which was extremely frustrating for members.
“I am afraid… the playing field is far from level. The field actually reminds me of a cow pasture with big holes and crevices,” said Austin.
Austin told the BHTA members that he feared it could take months before a new Fiscal Incentives Bill was created, passed and proclaimed “while the tourism industry continues to suffer great delays by the extensive process”.
He said too many members were still unable to access the concessions while others were simply turned off by the lengthy process and “turn around from all angles”.
Hoteliers were told they were using the wrong letterhead, their signature “appears funny”, or they encountered problems with Customs trying to differentiate between a bedsheet or skirting for example, he said.
“I think we have to go beyond the list and get to a point where we are allowing people to access concessions and allow them to do so and police it,” he declared.
Austin pleaded with Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds to help arrange a meeting between the BHTA, the Ministry of Finance and the Comptroller of Customs so they could “agree to a procedure that would alleviate the challenges that we have”.
“The time for action after lengthy discussion is now,” said Austin.
Another sore point for members has been the Tourism Levy Bill and VAT Amendment Act, Austin said, while explaining that the delay in those pieces of legislation has left the industry with a level of uncertainty as it relates to the correct level of taxes to be collected.
He said: “It is necessary for this bill to be passed so that we can get on with advising our partners and stakeholders in our industry about the correct level of taxation.
“The implication of this legislation not being established could be significant to the collection of the correct levels of revenues from the levies.
“Many in the industry are unsure of the level of levies and are awaiting the policy notes from the enacted legislation.”
He said while he understood the industry had to “pay our fair share in taxes”, he was still hopeful that the issues would be ironed out soon.
BHTA Chief Executive Officer Senator Rudy Grant said in relation to the issues about access to concessions under the two laws, a meeting was requested with the Ministry of Finance and he expected that meeting to take place this month.