Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe in a recent interview said an increase to the departure tax in place of some of the new and increased aviation fees may be “an acceptable position” for all sides as the government anticipates a greater return from air arrivals.
Mr. Wilchcombe said, “We want to make sure that the airlift numbers increase. It’s one thing to say look at the new rate, but that rate has to be predicated on your deliverables and we’re expecting a greater return.”
He added that dialogue between tourism industry players and the Government was ongoing.
When the new fees were carried out in July the Airlines for America coalition, which represents key operators such as Jet Blue, Delta and American Airlines, along with others organizations warned that its members “may be forced to reconsider their service levels to the Bahamas” if the new aviation fees were not adjusted.
This included the new $75 fee to be paid to Customs by commercial and private pilots when landing in and departing from the Bahamas along with an additional $50 fee for processing forms by Customs, and a $50 fee to refuel.
“The way they are suggesting is the possibility of adjusting or replacing the existing fees with an increase in the departure tax for passengers. We’re working with the airlines, the Bahamas Hotel Association. All the stakeholders have been sitting and talking. I think that’s an acceptable position by all right now, but of course you have to wait and see what happens and we’re continuing the dialogue,” said Mr. Wilchcombe.
He said that now is the time to make these changes in order to have the “airlift and inventory” in place so that the country can “benefit handsomely”.
“If you don’t move now you’re likely to be running behind those other countries, the competitors, who are moving with haste. This is a critical time now for us to be in the game as the economy begins to turn,” he said.
“Everything that happens in America and other parts of the world, we are affected by it, but more particularly the United States and the eastern seaboard. We have over the last 10 years depended heavily on the North American market, so if we’re going to change that scenario we have to ensure that there is a comfortability with the airlines.”