Another row is brewing in the tourist industry amid reports of possible reduction in the head tax for cruise ship passengers arriving in Montego Bay.
The reduction is being pushed by Montego Bay cruise shipping players who, for the past three years, have seen a steady decline in the number of cruise vessels arriving in the city.
They have argued that a lowering of the head tax would encourage cruise line officials to have their vessels make more calls in Montego Bay, and more importantly, according to them, not having the resort city dropped as a port of call.
The head tax charged to passengers arriving in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio stands at US$15.
Official Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) figures, however, show that Ocho Rios enjoys the lion’s share of the market.
During the period 1997-1999, of the 2.1 million cruise passengers that visited Jamaica, 76.8 per cent or 1.6 million went to Ocho Rios. Only 461,944 went to Montego Bay. Port Antonio, a much smaller port, has seen only three cruise ships over the past three years and was not factored into the equation.
The government has acknowledged talks on a lower head tax for Port Antonio but denies that a decision has already been taken on Montego Bay.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism, Wykeham McNeill, said that the government was not planning on doing anything that would be harmful to any particular port.
“There are ongoing discussions to lower the head tax in Port Antonio and this has triggered speculation about Montego Bay,” he said.
“If the tax were to be lowered in the Second City, it would involve careful consultation with all the players in the industry,” he added.
President of the Montego Bay Cruise Council, Lee Bailey, said that he was aware of the proposal to lower the head tax for passengers arriving at the city’s ports and would consider it a good move.
Ocho Rios was saturated with cruise vessels, he said, while other ports were not enjoying what he called “some of the special concessions that are in place”.
Mr. Bailey said that a lowering in the head tax in Montego Bay would in no way undermine Ocho Rios’ status as the cruise shipping capital of Jamaica and noted that fears being expressed to the contrary, are extremely premature.
“The proposal is not for ships to leave Ocho Rios,” he added. “It is to ensure that the whole industry profits.”
Former president of the St. Ann Chamber of Commerce, Joe Issa, who three years ago was in the heart of a tussle with his Montego Bay counterpart at the time, Lloyd B. Smith, over a proposed head tax reduction for the second city, reiterated his earlier position in stating that any reduction of the cruise tax should be done across the board.
“In terms of equity and fairness, the head tax that is charged to passengers arriving in the island should be consistent at all the ports of entry,” Mr. Issa said. “As I have stated before, we have to be careful about trying to appease one sector at the expense of another. Before anything is done, there should be clarification on the matter.”
Source: The Gleaner