St Vincent: Gonsalves proposes halving tax to urge intra-regional travel

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( – Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Saturday encouraged, intra-regional travel as a means of dampening the impact of COVID-19 on CARICOM economies.

The virus, which has resulted in over 4,000 deaths internationally, has been confirmed in a number of CARICOM nations, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and St. Lucia, Jamaica, most of which have been imported cases.

At the same time some counties are discouraging travel, with the United States banning flights from Europe for 28 days, and several cruise line and air carriers have announced suspension of service to several destinations.   

Gonsalves, in his National Heroes’ Day address from the Obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, on Saturday, said: “… look, we have to think creatively in relation to how we are going to sustain our economy…

“Services are important; tourism services. Yachts will come and planes will come. We are strengthening the security for the yachts, the surveillance and the management from a health standpoint,” he said.

The prime minister noted that persons departing SVG by air have to pay a US$40 departure tax.

He said he was waiting for the numbers from the Ministry of Finance to see how much revenue the country would lose if it reduces the departure tax by 50% for a period not exceeding six months.

“And I would do so because I want — I’ve spoken to some CARICOM heads. We have to encourage — if the Americans saying they’re not encouraging people to travel and the Europeans say they not encouraging people to travel, in the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) we have 650,000 persons, Trinidad is 1.3 [million], Barbados is 300,000… -and then there is Guyana with 700,000. We can have a market in this part in the southern and eastern Caribbean.”

The prime minister said he had spoken with head of the SVG Tourism Authority, Glen Beache and also with the president of the SVG hotels association, suggesting that they offer specials on accommodation.

Gonsalves said that the reduced departure tax will only apply to CARICOM passport holders traveling within CARICOM.

“If you’re traveling outside, you’ll still have to pay the same extent of the tax,” he said.

The prime minister added:

“The extent by which I will reduce it will depend when I see the final numbers when they are run. And I’m hoping to get that Monday morning.

“You notice what I’m trying to do to see if we can still keep some hotel trade within the region and also some yachting business. You can’t lock yourself off from the world. We have to take reasonable steps.

“You may say, Well, what about people coming in with COVID-19 from the region? Well, thus far we haven’t had community transmission. We haven’t had local transmission. We have had people come in from outside and they’re either being quarantined or isolated. So we’ll do that and manage it and look at it carefully on an on-going basis.

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  1. Desperation setting in… I get the impression Gonsalves knows his days as shareholder Chairman for LIAT are numbered.
    COVID-19 seems like a good excuse to lower the Departure Tax – for no more than 6 months, he says – but if inter-island movement is increased the risk and exposure to islands which do NOT have it is substantially increased, and presents a real potential for shutting LIAT down altogether – voluntarily or involuntarily.
    Logically, this is NOT the time for expanding LIAT’s loads, but like everybody else is doing, cutting services and buckling down for a month or so of minimal revenue. MOST companies (including airlines) will be using this pandemic as an excuse for “right sizing” – getting rid of excess employees, excess inventory, excess costs so they come out of it with some debt but a leaner operation. (It’s all for the shareholders, don’t you know.)
    And maybe shutting LIAT down is Gonsalves’ true intention. At home he has SVG Air, One Caribbean, and direct services now to Argyle Airport from the US and Canada, so he no longer needs LIAT connections to Barbados or Trinidad for people travelling out of the region.
    In his entire tenure as shareholder Chairman – a decade? – Gonsalves has run LIAT into the ground, demanding NO CHANGES ever happen. LIAT even had a British CEO – David Evans – who retired from a cargo back room at BA and, in his noticeable effort to do nothing, spent his entire employment touring LIAT’s destinations (at OUR expense, of course), and then writing a Business Plan for the Barbados government which discarded LIAT altogether in favour of a new carrier based at the Barbados airport, which got him fired when it became public knowledge.

  2. This is not the right time to consider expanding CARICOM travel. We also need to consider possibly canceling Carnival this year. People like Gonsalves are very selfish: he knows that when the Covid 19 Coronavirus strikes full-blown, he will be hiding in his mansion while the ordinary folks face the music.

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