Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders are meeting in the Eastern Caribbean island state of St. Kitts this week with recurring issues, like the high cost of air transport in a region that depends largely on tourism for its economic survival as main agenda items.
Host Prime Minister Timothy Harris of St. Kitts is presiding over the first of the two summits which are held each year, and officials say the leaders want to spend as much time as they can on Tuesday, Feb. 26, and Wednesday, Feb. 27, trying to iron out air and sea transportation issues before they wrap up late Wednesday.
Related agencies like the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) have all, in recent years, expressed concerns about the high costs of intra and extra regional travel, linked in large part to stifling security and other ticket taxes imposed by governments.
In many instances, it is cheaper to fly to China from New York or from London than to buy a ticket from the Big Apple to some of the 15 member nations. Airlines have begged passengers and the business community not to always blame them for high airfares, as this often has to do with a slew of various fees imposed by governments and airports.
Blaming free trade for a reduction in state revenues and the loss of the banana and sugar export sectors to Europe for reduced revenues among other income raising issues, some governments have sought refuge in the tourism sector by slapping fees on hotels and the travel sector.
The leaders say they will look at this and also examine recommendations from trade ministers for a multilateral services agreement that would cater to a regional ferry service, particularly for countries in the Eastern Caribbean sub grouping which are fairly close by.
And to make intra regional travel easier, the leaders also plan to review the system of interconnection and in-transit flight systems to treat intra travel as a domestic flight without all the inconveniences of additional check-ins at other ports.
That system was tried and tested with much success back in 2007 for the Cricket World Cup. Officials wonder why it was abandoned in the first place. The Guyana-based bloc secretariat said such a system “will serve as a mechanism to maximize the economic and social benefits arising from aviation activities for Caricom air carriers.”
Other agenda items of importance will of course include efforts to smoothen or eradicate kinks in the system of free travel or free movement within the region under the free trade system in the bloc of nations. That matter took center stage at a special meeting in Trinidad in December.
As an example of the fight to reduce travel taxes, IATA through Regional Vice President Peter Carda wrote the government of Barbados last year complaining about the injurious nature of two additional fees it had imposed on tickets to make up for a budget deficit.
“We do believe when you impose these fees they have a negative effect. We have seen it in other parts of the world when these fee structures are put in place and are high, first passenger travel begins to diminish and airlines begin to exit the market. That is something we certainly don’t want to happen in this part of the world. We did formally request to the government of Barbados that they reconsider the tax put in place. I would hope that we are able to have this debate and discussion in a sit-down with the government that we are able to demonstrate what taxation can do, what can happen when you begin to impose high fees to the industry,” he said.