By Natario McKenzie
Tribune Business Reporter
THE government was yesterday warned against any major boating fee increases in next week’s budget, a top marina executive yesterday warning: “We can’t just step over dollars to pick up nickels”.
Peter Maury, the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) president, told Tribune Business that wholesale fee increases across-the-board could result in a significant loss of business for The Bahamas at a time when the industry is enjoying a “pretty good season” thus far.
With The Bahamas among the world’s top boating destinations, Mr Maury said he welcomed the government’s efforts to strengthen collection of fees already “on the books” - such as the four percent yacht charter fee - but expressed concerns over suggestions of additional revenue measures.
He spoke out after K Peter Turnquest, the deputy prime minister, addressing the Eleuthera Business Outlook conference last week, said the government will target untapped existing revenue sources such as the four percent yacht charter fee in the upcoming 2019-2020 budget.
“We are looking at new revenue sources,” he confirmed. “One of the big ones we anticipate is in the yacht registry and chartering industry. We know there are vessels that come here and stay for six months conducting charter business during that time and not registering as commercial entities.
“As a result, The Bahamas gets no revenue. There is a four percent charter fee we are supposed to collect but, if they don’t register, then we are not collecting our four percent. It’s estimated that it could be as high as $50m a year.”
Mr Maury, in response, said: “A lot of people don’t understand this business. I’ve been in it for 31 years. We want the online portal for the cruising permit, the fishing permit, the charter fee. That would be a great thing. That is the direction the rest of the world is going.
“Let’s put the fishing permits, cruising permit, charter fees online. That would be a great thing. It’s a huge convenience for boaters coming here. Now when we go and say that we’re also going to be increasing fees effective this date, then we could cause problems. I’m not saying anything against the DPM because he’s been great in listening to us, but I’m hearing other rumblings that concern me. There are some who want to increase the fees and I don’t think that now is a great time to do that.”
Mr Maury argued that the Government should establish the registration portal for boaters and monitor its success first.“We could be able to better determine the metrics as far as what we have coming in, the value of the business and everything else,” he said.
“I don’t think that we are collecting near what we should. We may put it online and find out that our charter fee revenue goes up 300 per cent. These yachts come here and they spend a lot of money. I don’t think it would be wise to turn them off by increasing the cost of a cruising permit.
“We can’t just step over dollars to pick up nickels. We want them to come here, we want them to spend money. I just hope that whatever the Government does, it’s implemented the right way. The Ministry of Tourism and the marina operators should be a part of it so that everyone knows what’s coming.”
Mr Maury added that Bahamian marinas are enjoying a “pretty good season” to-date. “We are having a pretty good season from what I could tell. The Bahamas is busy with boats now. This is a great time to roll-out new technology to make it easier to cruise in The Bahamas. We want the boats to come and we want to make it easier for them to check in,” he said.