This was one of the programs that came out of their recent meeting in St. Kitts, where Skerritt said that discussions were held on the possibility of reducing departure taxes as an incentive for encouraging intra- regional travel.
He said they spoke to matters to do with “incentivizing” intra-regional travel which was a term used, and one of the ways of such incentive is to reduce the departure tax regime for intra-regional travel, in other words looking seriously at the possibility of having lower taxes for intra-regional travel so that we do everything we can to lower the actual cost of air travel. We are very, very serious about the concern that there has been a decline in intra-regional travel and the need to do everything we can collectively to stimulate such travel back up to pre 2008 levels and above,” said Skerritt in a statement to the OECS Secretariat.
This plan is in response to Ministers’ grave concern over the recent downturn in intra-Caribbean travel, which has been in the range of 40% to 50%, and which has negatively impacted the viability of the indigenous small hotel sub-sector in the OECS.
The matter of stimulating intra-regional travel is listed as an agenda item for a possible meeting of OECS Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministers.
Other topics suggested for the proposed meeting include measures geared towards promoting safe, secure, sustainable and competitive air services into the OECS region, in keeping with implementation of relevant aspects of the San Juan Accord.
The main focus of that accord, which was signed by Caribbean Aviation and Tourism Ministers in October 2007, is to create greater efficiency in the Caribbean aviation industry with a view to improving the region’s competitiveness and attracting more international carriers.
Minister Skerritt, acknowledged several factors which could have influenced a noticeable decline in intra-regional travel: “The issue of aviation was discussed at length. I think every Minister identified it in some form or fashion in their presentation because it’s a number of issues. There is the issue of cost or pricing of fares, cost of operations and the issue of capacity and of destinations being competitive and attracting OECS and other Caribbean people….We made it clear that we do not believe that you can point a finger at one airline and say that is the reason why intra-regional travel is down. We may be able to say that that is a contributor but we felt that it had also to do with the availability of disposable income for Caribbean people in light of very difficult economic circumstances; We felt it had partly to do with some very genuine issues regarding cost, including the cost of fuel and other operating costs but we also felt that our Caribbean islands have to do a better job of attracting the interest of Caribbean people to visit their neighbours.”