By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe has promised greater dialogue with the aviation and cruise ship industries before any potential tax changes are introduced.
He said the government was “sitting down, talking” with providers regarding their concerns over new fees.
The new taxes led to threats of a potential decrease in airlift and an
internet petition calling on the government to repeal the fees.
Speaking at an Out Island Promotion Board event yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said the complaints were mainly over “the process” and a “lack of warning” – not the fees.
“We are concerned as you are about some of the decisions made recently and some of the taxes that have been imposed and the lack of warning,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“Our Bahamas has many islands, many islands that require tremendous service and the quality of service must always be there... To provide that service will cost money; and the fact is, we earn revenue through taxation. We earn revenue through causing those who come through our country to spend more.
“But the director general of tourism and the Office of the Prime Minister have been working very closely in an effort to ensure that we’re able to arrive at an understanding so that whatever happens now, whether they are going to rescind or reduce – and the future, will cause for greater dialogue before it takes place.”
Speaking to the press, Mr Wilchcombe said the recent complaints from airline owners over the fees do present a level of concern – as do talks of a potential airlift loss.
“Again, we’re having dialogue with the airlines and with the Ministry of Finance,” he said, “the Ministry of Finance is having dialogue with the airlines, as well. Concern is the word; obviously if we lose any airlift, it’s going to be a tremendous concern to us.
“We are going to speak to the Family Islands, today, and the Family Islands are doing quite good – they’re up two per cent overall, 13 per cent generally in revenue, so they’re doing pretty good – but that’s because of the marketing and also because of the airlift, so you don’t want to lose any airlift.”
The minister continued: “We don’t want to end up in any situation where we’re having unnecessary arguments with the providers, so we’re sitting down talking with them, they’re talking with us, and we’re trying to work through it all. But it’s not only them, of course the boats, the cruise ships, the small crafts.”
Mr Wilchcombe said “the understanding is there” regarding the reason for the taxes. He explained the complaints are not directed at the fees.
“They’re more concerned about the process,” he said. “They want to make sure there is a dialogue – whenever you’re going to do anything, make sure they are prepared for it.”
Earlier this month, Captain Randy Butler, head of Sky Bahamas, said the new aviation taxes were “closing the door” to tourism and Family Island economic development. He warned if the Christie administration does not revisit its aviation tax increases, airlines may stop flying to the Bahamas or make adjustments to their schedules and stops in the islands.
An internet petition is urging the government to repeal the new processing fee for general aviation or face “devastating” affects on the country’s tourism product. The petition, which was sponsored by Robert Gallo, is on the website thepetitionsite.com and encourages people to sign “to stop the unfair additional fees for people visiting the Bahamas.”
Senator John Bostwick, shadow tourism minister, described the increased fees as “absolute insanity” and called on the government to “urgently” revisit its policy.
Family Island resort operators also expressed concern over the potential pull back by the private aviation sector, one believing the Bahamas could “conservatively” lose $20 million in tourism revenues if it maintains the new taxes.