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IT’S MY BUSINESS: 10 points for Sealy, Sinckler


Pat Hoyos

IT’S MY BUSINESS: 10 points for Sealy, Sinckler

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The “10 points” press conference, hastily called last Thursday afternoon by Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy with the support of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, marked a welcome change in the way the Stuart Administration has been handling its public relations since regaining office.
It was a positive event and should be repeated regularly. The other ministers could take a few “pointers” from Richard Sealy, who spoke as if he were taking the people into his confidence. Mr Sinckler, who tends to be more combative with the Press, got the “vibe” and carried on in the same vein.
If we are to go forward in this country, the ministers of Government will need to “subject” themselves to many more of these Press conferences. When the politicians do as well as Messrs Sealy and Sinckler did in answering tough questions and trying to convince the public that their ideas are good despite challenges, everybody wins.
Now, for a few little “points” of my own. A lot of what Mr Sealy announced was not far above the level of what you would expect from an on-the-ball minister working with, in this case, his very experienced board, the Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA). It was not earth-shattering, but interesting.
I agree with him, too, that the BTA is not given credit for all the good work it does and that we often blame it for things it is not directly responsible for.
Space does not permit me to make all of the comments that came to mind from listening to this conference on VOB, so I would just like to raise my main one today, which concerns the announcement of some sort of voucher rebate for British visitors who have to pay APD, the Air Passenger Duty, to their government in order to travel.
You will recall that this tax was imposed at just £5 (BDS$14.86) on all passengers leaving Britain as long ago as 1994, but is now so high that some say it has affected our tourist arrivals from Britain, which were 1.6 per cent lower in 2012 than in 2011.
The APD now stands at £83 (BDS$246.74) per economy class passenger travelling from Britain to the Caribbean. It doubles and triples for more expensive airline tickets.
Barbados had close to 87 000 visitors from Britain last year, so let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that none was under two years of age (as they wouldn’t have to pay it) and all of them flew economy. The amount of APD paid to the British treasury would have been around £7.2 million, or about Bds$24.1 million.
Since the total package of incentives announced last week was valued at around $20 million, clearly the rebate on the APD will not be for everyone and, certainly, Minister Sealy said it would be for people who stayed at least two weeks. I don’t know what percentage of the 87 000 arrivals this was last year, but I don’t see how people who are having a hard time paying that current APD rate will increase their length of vacation here in order to avoid it. Not in a recessionary time.
The rebate then seems to be meant mainly to stimulate the local economy rather than increase the total number of British arrivals.
I would prefer to see an across-the-board rebate even if it was only going to be half of the actual tax charged, and effected by simply taking your ticket and APD tax receipt to a local bank of your choice. The Central Bank would reimburse the commercial banks and charge the Government. Keep it dead simple.
The idea of vouchers, even if well-meant, raises questions as to who will get them. In order to save money by providing rebates in kind instead of cash, will Government-run entities like Harrison’s Cave or Government-subsidized ones like those operated by the Barbados National Trust be on the voucher-taking list? Or selected restaurants or stores? All of this should be bypassed by just giving the visitors back the cash in local currency to spend as they like.
This would send a message which could be in all our British marketing – that you will get back X per cent of your APD tax in local currency no matter how many of you are in the family or how long you are staying, or what you want to spend it on.
Meantime, while I found that few of the “10 points” announced for tourism last week dealt with our worsening economic situation here and now but were of more long-term benefit, I heartily congratulate Richard Sealy and Chris Sinckler for holding an informative and democratically uplifting Press conference.
• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.

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