Hot on the heels of last weekend’s introduction of a travel bubble that will benefit more than a dozen regional countries, Government on Tuesday announced a move that should entice more Caribbean people to start flying again.
Barbados will be going the same route as its Caribbean neighbour, Antigua and Barbuda, in slashing airport taxes for regional travellers by 50 per cent.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins made the disclosure during the State of the Tourism Industry update at the Barbados Hilton, and later provided more details of the service charge adjustment in a statement.
The airport service charge is currently set at BDS$70 for travellers to CARICOM states and BDS$140 for travellers to other regional destinations, as well as international travel.
“The request was made that the BDS$70 fee charged to passengers travelling to CARICOM states be extended to passengers travelling to other regional states. The Cabinet approved this amendment. Therefore, when the legislative process has been completed, all ex-CARICOM regional airlines’ passengers will pay the same service charge of BDS$70 as opposed to the BDS $140 that they are currently charged,” Minister Cummins explained.
Travellers to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the islands of the French Antilles, Dutch Antilles, British Antilles, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico will benefit from this change.
The move to reduce the taxes comes a year after Prime Minister Mia Mottley signalled her Government was prepared to make the move.
Last month, the Gaston Browne administration in St John’s led the way, halving taxes on airline tickets for six months in the first instance.
For the region’s people, it has been a long time coming.
This business of high travel taxes has been a bugbear for nationals who island-hop to holiday with friends and family, businessmen in search of new markets and investment, consultants offering services, as well as artistes, artisans, sportsmen and sportswomen sharing their skills.
Most vexing, in some cases, was that taxes on an airline ticket to a country in a region that relies so heavily on tourism could account for as much as 60 cents in every dollar, forcing Caribbean people to adjust to the cold reality that it was cheaper to travel to the United States than a few hundred miles away.
Some lobbied for a better deal, like the group called the ‘Caribbean Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Travel Taxes’ that started a petition for a tax reduction that gathered nearly 20 000 signatures; however, there was little change as governments appeared reluctant to part ways with the revenue.
But in an ironic twist, COVID-19 and its crippling impact on travel forced authorities to change course in a bid to revive the major foreign exchange earner that has been struggling to find its footing.
It’s unfortunate that it took a dire state of affairs to lower taxes, but there’s no use in dwelling on the past.
We agree on this occasion with recent statements of the Antiguan leader that the Caribbean has nothing to lose by the move.
Prime Minister Browne has suggested: “We think at this time where regional travel is relatively low, extremely flat, that there is very little to lose, and even though it may not be the best condition to analyze the elasticity of ticket prices, it will give us some indication as to how a reduction in pricing would impact on demand without creating a financial crisis.”
Caribbean people have been longing for a service that is convenient, reliable and affordable.
While we expect it will take some time to lure travellers in the current climate and rebuild what was once a lucrative market for Barbados, the opportunity should not be missed.
With the current travel bubble in place that allows for fully vaccinated travellers from Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Anguilla, Montserrat, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, St Maarten, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands and Bermuda, who present a valid pre-flight negative PCR test, to be exempt from further quarantine or testing upon arrival in Barbados, every effort should be made of the opportunity to entice Caribbean nationals to pay us a visit.
Additionally, we expect that this could be the jumpstart that LIAT and other regional carriers desperately need to return to viability.
We hope that more Governments will follow suit.
If there was ever a time for the region to truly work together for the economic benefit, health and safety of its people now is certainly that time.