WHAT’S ON MY MIND
Dealing with the Price Problem
in the Caribbean
by Amal Thomas
As the 2007 – 2008 sailing season nears the finish line and boats head to hurricane holes, haul-outs or summer cruising grounds, we are met with changes. Most notably, the cost of goods and services, taxes and fees, fuel and even basic foods, is on the rise throughout the Caribbean. This is not just a regional phenomenon, but has a lot to do with the world economy. Some questions arise.
• Are yachties expected to make frequent cruises as usual?
• Will regatta attendance be affected?
• What are the comparative increases in the cost of yacht services in various islands and Caribbean coastal nations?
• With price hikes, which countries are likely to be affected by a decrease in port calls?
• As the EC dollar used in many English-speaking islands is tied to a weakening US dollar, will the region become more attractive to European sailors? Or as Caribbean prices rise, will Europeans seek cheaper destinations?
• Will bareboat charters decrease, or perhaps increase as a form of “budget” holiday?
• Are too many businesspeople now pinning their hopes on the very seasonal mega-yacht sector?
• How can boaters adjust to cost-of-cruising or cost-of-racing increases? How can those working in yacht-related businesses adapt?
• How does the yachting sector intend to deal with inflation-related issues on national and regional levels?
A relevant factor is taxation. Let’s face the fact that most Caribbean countries earn their main revenue from the tourism industry. We want visitors to come here. However, if the government taxes that have to be paid by visitors are too high, they will drive visitors away. In various countries and ports, yachting visitors may have to pay one or more of the following: national entry fee per person (Immigration “head tax”), Customs clearance fee, cruising permit fee, yacht license fee, harbor dues, light dues, bridge fees, and departure tax — in addition to mooring or berth fees if those facilities are used.
I understand from fellow captains that they would like to sail to a particular island, but they are all running from the level of bureaucratic expenses. It’s really a sad situation. Although some governments see these fees as an important source of revenue, there comes a point when such taxes become counterproductive and end up driving the real sources of revenue away.
Questions often asked about yacht fees are:
• Do they provide better facilities at ports and anchorages?
• Do paid-for moorings have insurance coverage if there’s a mishap?
• Why are crime and security still big issues, even in countries yachts must pay hefty fees to visit?
• What benefits can be provided out of yacht fees to make yachties feel more at ease, thereby encouraging them to visit more frequently and make longer stays?
I would like to encourage yachties to ask questions if they are uncertain about something when paying their dues. The satisfied yachting customer is more important than ever because everyone within the marine sector is feeling the tension. Many persons’ jobs are at stake and everyone will have to compete to stay afloat.
These problems have to be raised. The prudent mariner knows that the time to reef sails is when you first think about it. I hope that others who have studied solutions to similar problems can bring forward their thoughts on this issue. Let us spread our ideas and work toward a thriving sailing season 2008 - 2009!
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