Eleuthera Should Be On Tariff Act Says Hotelier

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A tourism leader in Eleuthera is fighting to over-turn a decision by the government to exclude certain Family Islands from the official list on The Tariff Act.

After sustaining $250,000 worth of damage, Stephen Kappeler, the General Manager of Cape Eleuthera, said the resort could use a little bit of help.

“I think they are overlooking the damages to Eleuthera,” Kappeler said, who is also the Senior Vice President of the BHA.    “It’s also strange to me that Abaco is not being taken care of. Long-standing, key properties are being neglected.”

Last week, Hubert Ingraham, the Prime Minister, signed an Exigency Order giving many of the islands devastated by Irene full exemption from tariffs on a wide range of essential goods.

The measure, lasting for 60 days on Cat Island and Acklins, and 30 days for other areas, is expected to help thousands of residents and business get back on their feet.

According to The Tariff Act, Long Cay, Mayaguana, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Inagua, Ragged Island, Cat Island and Acklins qualify for the tax exemptions, which can include anything from fishing boats to building materials.

Although an amendment in the Act said areas not mentioned could still make their losses known to NEMA, the official omission of some islands hard hit by Hurricane Irene has nevertheless raised some eyebrows.

Cape Eleuthera, the only deep-water marina on the island, is the largest local employer, according to Kappeler.

In addition to the damage, the resort and marina still doesn’t have power, and he’s “disturbed” by the slow response of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation. The marina has been forced to close its doors and turn away customers.

Late last week, Kappeler added that a “nice sized divers group” had to be turned away.

The group wasn’t expected until late September, but the organizers, he said, didn’t feel comfortable booking with Cape Eleuthera given the recent troubles.

The troubling news comes as Cape Eleuthera has recently been recognized as a 2011 Fodor’s Choice selection.

Fodor, a leading name is travel information, made the announcement last Thursday. Kappeler was honored by the distinction, but there is only one thing on his mind these days.

“I thought you were going to tell me the prime minister has given us a duty exemption,” he said, when contacted by Guardian Business.

“Being selected though is a huge morale booster for our staff. You can have beautiful beaches and facilities, but if you don’t have the staff, you can’t deliver the service. Our staff is really the key to our success at the Cape.”

Winston Rolle, the Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation, told Guardian Business he’s “very surprised” by the exclusions to The Tariff Act, and in particular, Eleuthera.

“From my understanding, the whole emphasis on the duty exemption was supposed to help islands hit the hardest,” Rolle said.

“I’m a bit surprised Eleuthera wasn’t included. When you look at the path of the hurricane, they [were] all certainly affected.”

He added that he would fully support an initiative to get Eleuthera and Abaco on the official list. “I would absolutely support these islands being included. Eleuthera and Abaco did get severely affected [and I] would imagine they would be on the list.”

Rolle and Kappeler were uncertain whether businesses and residents on Eleuthera or Abaco will be treated the same way as other islands.

“There are families behind these businesses and they’ve been around for years,” Kappeler said, referring to hotels and resorts on both Eleuthera and Abaco.

“It’s highly disappointing they’re not being properly considered.”

The Nassau Guardian
Published: Sep 06, 2011