THE easiest way for a Cabinet minister to lose credibility with his/her sector is to do nothing when the sector is being ravaged. For this reason, we had asked where was Dr Wykeham McNeill, the tourism minister, when the 2012-2013 Budget was being crafted.
We are happy to see that the minister has sprung into action and will chair today's meeting of representatives of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) and senior government technocrats, following on yesterday's emergency meeting of the JHTA executive.
We encourage the JHTA members to go into the meeting with a positive attitude; that same positive attitude that kept them focused on the bigger picture while the international economic recession raged. Where most sectors went into retreat, the industry took the bullish approach and invested resources into their properties, creating jobs and earning badly needed foreign exchange for this country.
Dr Peter Phillips, the finance minister, ought to have taken his cue from this approach and moved aggressively to empower the tourism industry to do more of what it was doing and not less.
And it makes no sense to simply rely on the view that all sectors are being hit. We are sure there is no one who does not understand the dreadful situation we are in. Dr Phillips is overwhelmed by the mountain of needs that we have as a country and might have overlooked the possible outcome of overtaxing the tourism industry.
We want it known that we hold Dr Phillips in high esteem. He is undoubtedly a bright man, who shows that he can do well in the finance ministry, and so we are confident that he will see the point we are trying to make, that the next Budget will be as bad or worse, if we do nothing to stimulate the sector with the best possibility of bringing some measure of growth.
Today's meeting should consider at least three things: First, the uncertainty of the sector being able to pass on increased costs to the visitor market, which is by no means a captive market. Tourists are always about choosing a destination over another usually with a keen eye on costs. The recession has ensured that there are many cheaper places than Jamaica. It can make no sense to make the destination even more expensive for visitors, assuming that they come.
Second, a room tax of between US$2 and US$12 per night is rare in the international industry, and is far more punitive than other taxes which are deductible. We hope that this suggestion was nothing more than a negotiating posture.
Third, the local land-based sector of the tourism industry should not be made to shoulder all the burden. Why is the Government not insisting on collecting the US$2 head tax charged to the cruise ships? In fact, the tax paid by Jamaicans, including the land-based facilities, is being used to subsidise the cruise ships because we provide fresh water and clean up beach garbage without any charge to them. Is it a case of 'cyaan ketch quako yuh ketch him shut?'
We sincerely hope that today's meeting will not turn out to be a mere talk shop that leaves the country in the same position as before. Dr McNeill has the unenviable but critical task of saving this industry. If he succeeds, he would have made his election sure.
If, on the other hand, he does not, we would not want to contemplate the drastic consequences of his failure.