Cost of regional travel
At a time when Caribbean countries are frantically in need of deepening regional integration and diversification of their struggling economies, every initiative must be taken as a matter of priority to exploit whatever opportunities exist for advancing the cause of our countries and peoples.
Hence, given the importance of services in general and travel and tourism in particular to every country in the region, our policymakers have to become much more aggressive in their efforts to grow these sectors or industries.
Specifically, increased travel within the region has to be promoted as a major building block of our tourism development strategy going forward. That initiative is even more pressing as the recovery in the global economy remains somewhat weak, resulting in reduced visitor arrivals to many Caribbean destinations.
But, we also have to be realistic. The basic fact is that the cost of travel in the region is way too high and that factor alone is capable of reducing in very significant ways the willingness and ability of Caribbean people to move from one country to another.
After all, when a passenger can purchase a ticket for US$680 to travel to New York on American Airlines for a three-week vacation and compares that cost with one of US$520 to travel between Barbados and Grenada for less than a week, what choice will the passenger make?
To me, the answer to that question is rather straightforward.
And therein lies the major hurdle to regional travel – too high a price to pay. Why is the price so high? One major contributing factor is the amount of taxes and fees imposed by our governments. For example, if a passenger purchases a LIAT ticket to travel between Barbados and Grenada, he will be subjected to the following taxes and fees: passenger facility charge, airport development tax, airport authority taxes, airport passenger taxes, and fuel surcharge.
All of these taxes and fees have to be paid along with the basic fare. The net result is that a ticket that is priced at US$99 could very well cost the passenger about US$150.
To me, therefore, something urgent has to be done by our respective governments to bring the cost of regional travel down.
Hence, the recent call by the Prime Minister of Grenada for governments to address this critical issue of taxes and fees imposed on regional travel should be taken as a positive message by all and sundry if the Caribbean’s travel and tourism industry is to rebound anytime soon.
Costs of regional travel aside, let’s not forget that travel and tourism is a demand-driven industry. Therefore, lowering the cost of travel in the region will not by itself result in increased inter-regional travel.
Other important factors such as the efficiency with which regional and other carriers operate can play a significant role in the final outcome.
Going forward, then, no one can deny the importance of travel and tourism to the economic development of Caribbean economies. Hence, every effort must be made to ensure the continued growth and development of that vital industry.
Reducing the cost of travel within the region is a great starting point towards the achievement of this objective. And, therefore, no effort should be spared in making this apparently elusive dream a reality in the region in the not too distant future.