Trinidad and Tobago will not be too quick to follow suit with a 50 per cent reduction in travel taxes for Caricom nationals.
The fairly new initiative taken by Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda to boost tourism and travel in the region, is not something travel and tourism stakeholders in T&T believe could just be implemented hurriedly, as such a move could have far-reaching implications and will involve “the wider policy of the Government.”
In a telephone interview yesterday, Tobago Tourism Agency CEO Louis Lewis explained: “Obviously, if fares are lowered to make it more affordable for people, there is a possibility that you could see travel increase. However, in the case where we have a national carrier, a reduction in taxes, tax revenue, has implications for one, Government revenue and two the viability of Caribbean Airlines.”
He said while the idea of the initiative might sound good, there was a bigger picture beyond just the possibility that it may spur increased arrivals.
“It’s two sides of the coin that has to be looked at in its entirety,” he said.
When contacted for comment, Minister of Tourism Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell told Guardian Media he needed to respond to the question or possibility of such an initiative, as complex issues and circumstances surrounded such a move.
But a former head of the Institute of International Relations at UWI’s St Augustine Campus, Professor Andy Knight, did not share the sentiments of Lewis and Mitchell. He believes such an initiative would do some good for T&T and the wider Caribbean.
Knight, who is also an activist for regional integration, said: “In order to encourage regional integration, there has got to be more interesting island travel, not just for tourism and holidays, but also for business and work.”
He said even before the pandemic, intra-island travel should have been encouraged but there was always one thing that stood in the way—cost.
“The challenge is that inter-island air travel tends to be too expensive. So we could do one or two things: increase the competition by having more airline options, thus reducing costs of flights; do what Barbados has done and reduce taxes on flights for Caricom citizens, or invest in ferries for inter-island hoping,” he advised.
He said another option was the growing popularity of seaplanes, which can attract a younger demographic of travellers and adventurous people.
In August 2020, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced her government was moving to reduce travel taxes.
Mottley, in a previous interview in her then capacity as Caricom chair, had spoken of the severe hit the Caribbean’s tourism and travel sector had taken due to the pandemic.
“The Caribbean community is the most travelled and trade-dependent region in the world. In many instances in our community, countries depend on tourism to the extent of almost 40 to 50 per cent of the GDP, both directly and indirectly,” she had explained.
On June 28, the government of Antigua and Barbuda took the same position, with Prime Minister Gaston Brown implementing a 50 per cent reduction in taxes on airline tickets for travel.
Browne, who also assumed chairmanship of Caricom on July 1, noted the initiative, which took effect in several countries of the Caribbean community, would last for six months in the first instance.