Lionel Hurst: Reducing intra-regional travel taxes ‘unlikely’ amid increase in support from Antiguans

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The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Lionel Hurst, has expressed doubt about whether a reduction in intra-regional travel costs is achievable.

A petition started last month by Caribbean Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Travel Taxes has gained traction among the Caribbean public, including Antiguans and Barbudans.

Up to press time, the petition had received about 11,000 signatures with Antiguans and Barbudans contributing 10 percent of that total.

At the post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday morning, Hurst said while he had not seen the petition, there was discussion among Cabinet officials about the landing fees.

“Discussions has taken place in Cabinet about reducing some of the taxes that LIAT pays in order to enable it to survive and landing fees, for example, are a very important part of the taxes collected by the islands where LIAT lands.

“There is some a measure of reasonableness with the amounts charged. [Regional] governments have invested in … longer runway[s] in order to accommodate bigger aircraft, [and] also had to invest in security … since 911,” he said.

He added that, “The likelihood that all governments will be willing to reduce the cost to operate their airports successfully, it seems to me that it is a wish rather than a directive which governments would seriously consider, because this is just so very expensive to operate an airport.”

Hurst also acknowledged that the cost for travelling in the region has skyrocketed in the last two decades.

“There was a time when it … used to cost $25 to fly. I think the lowest ticket you can obtain to [travel] to St. Kitts is almost $1,000,” he said.

Meanwhile, young Antiguans and Barbudans have given their support to the regional petition.

OBSERVER media spoke to Rose-Mary Reynolds, who is currently studying at the University of the West Indies in Barbados about the petition.

“I fully agree with this initiative because the taxes for traveling within the region [are] too high. This is [counter] to what we want to achieve, which is regional integration.

“As a university student that travels frequently to attend school, I often see my classmates staying back in Barbados because they can’t afford to travel home,” she said.

She noted that travelling between islands is much more expensive than travelling to other places, such as the United States.

“When you have a ticket to travel to a nearby Caribbean island—which is a 30-minute to one-hour flight—and it is much more expensive than going to an international country, [such as] the States, there is a problem,” she said, adding that this becomes quite a burden for students travelling every semester break in addition to paying high tuition fees.

Reynolds said government should pay attention to this petition, as it shows what persons who help elect politicians to office are saying about this subject.

OBSERVER media also spoke to Dalano DaSouza, one of the organizers for the petition, who said the idea started on social media.

“It came out of Twitter. There was a group of us that were speaking about it after someone posted about the high-ticket prices,” he said.

According to a press release by the group, studies have predicted that if governments were to reduce taxes on travel, intra-regional Caribbean travel would increase significantly with an improvement in economic performance in those islands.

It goes on to state that, over time, the increase in travel will likely see governments collect tax revenue from existing taxes in the economy, such as sales tax.

While there are other factors in determining the demand for intra-regional travel, regional and international studies have concluded that the price is one of the most significant determinants for travel.

DaSouza said governments should understand how damaging the current issue has been.

“It is important that we put pressure on the governments to realize that it is more of an issue than they think it is.

“There have a number of studies, most notably by the Caribbean Development Bank last year, that pointed to a reduction in intra-regional travel by 6 percent in the last five years and have seen an increase in extra-regional travel,” he said.

He added that this petition has provided a platform for those concerned about the issue to make their voices heard.

“Persons, thus far, have not had an avenue to express how they feel about the high taxes. This petition is now being welcomed by them because they now have a voice,” he said, adding for persons who have not heard about the petition to “sign the petition, share the petition because it is major issue.”

He also said, “At the end of the day, I think we do not know enough about our [Caribbean] neighbors and the best way to do that is to physically visit their countries.”

The petition can be found on all social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, and those interested in signing can visit their website.

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