BHTA Concerned Over New Aviation Fees

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The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) believes reductions in airlift to The Bahamas constitute a "real and imminent threat" and new aviation fees may threaten negotiations on needed increases in airlift in time for Baha Mar's opening.

As government ministers continued to defend the increases late last week, the BHTA revealed it has now formerly called on the government to rescind new aviation fees to allow for more consultation on the issue.

One airline has already indicated to the BHTA that they "are not willing to absorb" what they forecast to be an additional $300,000 annually in costs as a result of the new fee regime encompassing increases in overtime and aircraft processing fees, said Stuart Bowe, president of the BHTA.

In responses emailed to Guardian Business, Bowe said, "We believe the threat of reduced airlift is real and

imminent, based on precedence by the airlines. Industry and the airlines are looking at this in the context of all fees which are applicable to air travel and contribute to an already high cost of travel to The Bahamas. The airlines and private aircraft operators are also concerned about the lack of advanced dialogue prior to implementation."

Speaking of concerns about how the aviation fees, implemented on July 1 as part of new revenue measures under the 2013/2014 budget, could derail attempts to secure the additional airlift, which is needed if Baha Mar is to succeed, Bowe said: "In preparation for Baha Mar's opening, hoteliers have been working earnestly with the Ministry of Tourism to attract additional airlift. The introduction of these fees does not help with our negotiations."

The BHTA president said that the fee increases are now setting back years of efforts by the Ministry of Tourism and others to attract more private aircraft to The Bahamas. Hotel cancellations have already taken place as a result, he added, and the negative publicity is having a knock-on effect on tourism promotional efforts overall.

Bowe added that it was "not long ago" that airlines "delivered on their threat to reduce airlift because of added charges" leading to lost flights and revenue for the tourism sector and the government. This set a precedent for what may be about to come, he suggested.

"It took government several years to eliminate the additional cost at which time the airlift returned."

The BHTA said it would like to see the government rescind the fees to allow for consultation between government, industry and representatives of the commercial airlines and general aviation sector, which would "create a better understanding of the potential impact" and "allow the stakeholders to explore options which would address mutual needs".

The BHTA's statement comes in the wake of a loud outcry from many sectors of the economy over the fees, including Bahamian commercial aircraft operators, private aircraft operators and hoteliers, as well as from international sources including the Airlines for America coalition, which represents key operators such as Jet Blue, Delta and American Airlines.

The new fees include a $50 charge for a refueling stop, $75 for both arrival and departure for commercial aircraft, and $50 for private aircraft, and new Customs processing fees for aircraft arriving after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. on a given day based on seating capacity.

Alison Lowe,
The Nassau Guardian
Published: July 15, 2013