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Business leader calls for taxing cruise passengers

By John Collins (1)

While idea has some supporters, it is expected to be “dead in the water since” numerous islands welcome cruise ships.

A $20 head tax per person per island for cruise passengers in the Caribbean is being advocated by a regional business leader but even those sympathetic to the idea don’t think it stands much of a chance of ever being adopted.

Proposing the tax is Gary Voss, the president of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Association of Industry & Commerce (CAIC), who urges Caribbean countries “to close ranks and fight against the lucrative cruise business.” While describing the cruise industry as “one of the fastest and most successful sectors of the global tourism industry,” the CAIC head argues that countries in the region “are not getting their fair share of the rewards.”

Charging that the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), to which most of the cruise ships in the Caribbean belong, “is operating a booming business that is likely to see an estimated 140 cruise ships bring millions of visitors to the region over the next three years,” Voss said it’s a “win-win situation for the operators but the same can not be said for the Caribbean.”

Describing the “most valuable” assets of the islands as “warm climate, breezy and sunny, and their physical beauty,” Voss said “these are the fundamental basis of our tourism sector. The cruise operators develop their business based on these assets, virtually for free.”

Charging that the ships are built in other parts of the world but sail in the Caribbean with no requirement to hire Caribbean nationals, Voss said in return they pay a “tiny head tax” of $5 per passenger “for what is in fact the main ingredient of the whole package: the Caribbean ambiance.”

Voss said “the reality of the situation is that the modern cruise ships are virtually self contained, with their own shows, entertainment and shopping on board to the point where many passengers seldom leave their ships.”

The adoption of a uniform per person per island head tax “is now more important than ever to prevent our islands from being picked one by one by the FCCA,” said Voss who charged that the Miami-based organization “has a habit of threatening islands that dare to implement a head tax on passengers.”

Idea "dead in the water?"

It is this factor that convinces many in government as well as tourism, even those that would like to see more regulation and control over cruise operations, that the Voss proposal is “dead in the water.”  A hotelier in an Eastern Caribbean island nation recalled that the FCCA “is very adept at playing islands off against one another with a ‘carrot and stick’ approach – you play ball with us and you’ll be rewarded is their attitude.”

He recalled that several years ago the Eastern Caribbean states came up with the idea of a uniform rate for the head tax but then one by one some adopted lower rates and ended up winning favor with the cruise lines and getting the all important cruise-ship calls.”

A businessman in an Eastern Caribbean island who “receives more than half of his business from cruise passengers,” said “this is a very delicate situation because the cruise lines are not married to us. They are foot loose and fancy free – they have been known to switch their itineraries on less than one day’s notice.” What has him “rather nervous” at present, he said is “the growing honeymoon between the cruise lines and the Western Caribbean and Mexico and eventually even Central America.”

He acknowledges that the attitude of the cruise lines is that “there’s plenty of business to go around” but he wonders “what consolation that will be when the cruise ships some day disappear on the horizon.”

The CAIC, headquartered in Trinidad, is an amalgamation of more than 20 private sector organizations in the region including the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association.

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1) Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read at:

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August 11, 2002


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