Caribbean Head Tax Defused

While the issue of implementing a $20 Caribbean-wide head tax on cruise passengers was finally put to rest earlier this month, "in light of a lack of consensus on this issue," according to Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Chairman Obie Wilchcombe, the matter of finding another way to successfully generate funds for developing Caribbean tourism remains in the foreground.

"The ministers and commissioners reaffirmed the need for a sustainable fund for Caribbean tourism development and agreed to continue exploring means for financing it," Wilchcombe said in a prepared statement, adding that Cruise Lines International Association, the CTO and the Caribbean Hotel Association, have already started discussions on some joint marketing opportunities.  

Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, noted that while the Caribbean must have a stronger identity, taxation, which she said is "not a positive element of tourism," is not the answer.

"We too are currently working on ways to get to that point without the use of a head tax," Paige added. The recent head tax idea was proposed last June as a possible revenue generating idea, explained Vernice Walkine, deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

"I believe a reporter asked the question at Canbbe m Week; it just popped up and has been lingering since then," Wa lkine recalled.

Robust Growth

Walkine said that the idea had some "momentum and potential" in the aftermath of 9/11, when Canbbean tourism was looking bleak and a need to find ways to fund a successful marketing campaign was a priority.

''Now with things looking better and more people cruising to the Caribbean, it's not as urgent," she pointed out. "But generating funds for marketing is always in discussion.

"If the head tax was implemented," Walkine continued, "I don't feel it would have deterred anyone from coming here. By air people pay a ticket tax, and cruising is not much different."

Walkine said that instead of a regional tax, individual countries will continue to do their own marketing.

"This will be a challenge for some," she underlined.

Charmaine Harrison, managing director for Great Vacations, a tour operator in Jamaica that also sells worldwide cruises, said that unlike some islands in the Caribbean, Jamaica is "very dynamic" when it comes to its marketing.

"We should not have a problem promoting ourselves," Harrison pointed out. "Although without the head tax, the government is really setting itself up for a challenge to be more creative to make money," she added. ''But as a whole, I believe the Caribbean is truly optimistic about its future for tourism"

Arley Sobers, director of research and information management at the CTO, pointed out that the Caribbean is having "robust growth" in the first quarter of 2004, with more than six million cruise passenger arrivals up 15 percent since last year.

On the downside, growth rates are likely to slow after 2004, Sobers explained.

''Based on past experience, U.S. elections will dampen U.S. outbound travel volumes," he said.

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