JAMAICA, as one of the leading tourism destinations in the Caribbean can attract even more visitors from the UK and so offset the effects of the Air Passenger Duty (APD) imposed by the British government to address the aviation industry's carbon footprint.
So said the British High Commissioner of Jamaica David Fitton as the special guest speaker at a Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) luncheon held earlier this month at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.
"I am aware of the arguments surrounding the imposition of the APD. Presently Jamaica attracts around 100,000 visitors a year from the UK and that number can be increased by making Jamaica even more of a tourism destination," said the British High Commissioner.
The APD was introduced by the UK in 1994 as an environmental tax. It places countries in charging bands based on the distance of their capital cities from London.
Therefore flying from London to Los Angeles or Hawaii in the US is calculated as being the same as Washington DC, the US capital with destinations in the Caribbean charged at a higher rate.
The Caribbean was placed in Band C, a decision that places it at a competitive disadvantage to holiday destinations in the United States which is in a lower band. Florida is in a lower tax band despite being further away from London than Jamaica. Initially the APD attracted a tax of 5 pounds per person. Last year that figure rose to 83 pounds per person.
A family flying from the UK to the Caribbean in 2005 would pay 80 pounds in taxes, today that family has to pay 400 pounds.
Jamaica and other Caribbean islands that are heavily dependent on tourism have been lobbying for a revision of the policy.
Last year President and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) David Scowsill said : "There has been much discussion around the UK's APD. Arguments and pleas by the industry have continued to fall on deaf ears.
"Apart from hurting the Caribbean region's tourism sector, it is actually harming the UK economy as well. In fact more is lost in terms of GDP contributions than the treasury gathers in APD tax revenue. Our recent research shows that removal of APD would result in an additional 91,000 British jobs being created and 4.2 billion pounds added to the economy in 12 months.
Regional tourism expect Alec Sanguinetti who has served as the Secretary General of the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association (CHTA) said an estimated 1.3 million tourist from the UK visited the region in 2007 while in 2010, that number dropped to 1.1 million.
The region has seen a 16 per cent drop in arrivals from the UK over the last five years.
Fitton added that the British High Commission does not adopt a policy of trying to prevent Jamaicans gaining visas to the UK but rather the process is very thorough to ensure everything remains above board.
He pointed out that the British High Commission in Kingston processes around 11,000 visas from around the region a year, with the majority of that number coming from Jamaica. Of the number related to Jamaica, 80 to 90 per cent are successful in a given period.