EDITORIAL: Unity key to tourism success
THERE IS REASON to feel good across the Caribbean today as we welcome the move by the British government to overhaul its controversial air passenger duty (APD). There are hurdles, however, that we must still get over in ensuring parity in the application of this particular levy.
Wednesday’s announcement by Britain’s Minister of Finance George Osborne of a change in the application of the duty a year from now was surprising but welcome news. It showed the benefits of sustained lobbying and advocacy on the part of many special interest groups.
The nature of this tax – which can best be described as iniquitous in relation to our tourism industry – stifled fair play in its application and disadvantaged the Caribbean vis-à-vis the United States and other long-haul destinations against whom we must compete. The simple fact is that the quantum of this levy was always an unfair imposition on people travelling to Barbados and the wider Caribbean.
While there is cause to rejoice, given the proposed changes, it would have been a much happier situation if the new rates were being applied immediately, given the importance of Britain as our main source market for visitors. Those next 12 months could very well mean the difference between success or failure for both our tourism sector and many governments across the region.
We must not be misled into believing that Mr Osborne’s announcement during the budget was based on altruism.
The truth is that a general election is due in Britain by May of next year.
His budget presentation on Wednesday was a sort of last opportunity to give people there a chance to reflect on their financial situation.
The fear factor for Mr Osborne and his Conservative Party, along with their Liberal Democrats coalition partners, is that the opposition Labour Party remains a few percentage points ahead in the polls. The very sizeable ethnic Caribbean population and other minorities from Africa and Asia whose birthplaces were negatively impacted by the APD will become increasingly important in the forthcoming poll. Every vote counts.
But it is not only the Caribbean population that matters but the influential corporate voices such as those in the airline industry – from Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, among others – which have consistently campaigned against the inequality of the duty.
Understandably, the APD created untold hardship for the Caribbean, but also taught us many lessons, the most important of which is what can be achieved by taking a united stand. Barbados could not have done it alone; neither could Jamaica. So while we have made headway in reducing the APD, there is a bigger lesson for us. We must remain united in promoting the Caribbean tourism brand.