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Sparing the goose that lays the golden egg

Thursday, June 14, 2012

SOMETIMES it is the ability to pull back from the precipice that demonstrates that a leader has ultimate good sense and is worthy of the trust and confidence of those whom he or she leads.

Tourism and Entertainment Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill and his Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips have reassured us that their intention was never to kill the tourism goose, which would essentially have pushed Jamaica further down the economic abyss.

The decision to reduce that deadly room tax — originally proposed to be between US$2 and US$12 — was easily one of the high points of the recent Budget presentation and would have signalled that there is still wisdom in the Administration that is leading Jamaica into the next 50 years of political and, we hope, economic independence.

A room tax is never to be contemplated, and especially never in the context of a tourism industry battling to stave off ferocious competition. It is no fault of Jamaica's that so many other destinations, including Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, are just waiting to grab the visitors who seek to cavort in the warm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and laze away on Jamaica's sun-kissed beaches. They, like us, have that in abundance and it is price differences that will give one the edge over another. Our competitors have been wise enough to steer clear of room taxes, knowing that it is not deductible and they can never be sure of recovering it, because tourists are not a captive group. They pick their vacation spots based on affordability and we certainly can't force them to come.

So the Jamaican administration still has another step to take: they must completely drop the room tax in order to put Jamaican hotels on a level playing field with other countries.

That said, we want to again acknowledge the awfully difficult choices facing the Administration. Our strong stance when the measures were first announced was based on our desire to sound the alarm and awaken the Government to the real dangers facing the tourism industry on which so much depends. It is a duty that nation-building newspapers had to boldly exercise even when other voices were foolishly suggesting that tourism did not want to accept its share of the national burden.

People who can't bother to think, don't accept that to disagree with a policy is not the same as not wanting to share economic burden. Truth be told, the tourism industry has been carrying an uneven share of that burden, perhaps because the alternatives are so few. Different administrations have milked what they see as a cash cow, to the point that the milk started to dry up. And if we can be forgiven for mixing our metaphors, the machete was again poised to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Difficult as things are, we hope that the tourism industry will remain positive and continue to invest in Jamaica, creating jobs for our people and earning critical foreign exchange.

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