Expert says UK passenger tax punishes developing countries

NADI, Fiji, April 30, 2009 – A development expert has asserted that the carbon tax for British travellers proposed by the United Kingdom government is a major blow to tourism in the Caribbean and smacks of “discrimination” against the region.
President of the Island Nations Climate and Oceans Programme and director of the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx), Lelei LeLaulu, said because tourism is especially important for providing income for countries and employment for their people during the current economic crisis, the decision to increase the Air Passenger Duty (APD) is a serious setback for the region.

“At a time when we are encouraging European tourists to boost the economies of developing countries with their tourism resources, the UK government in a single move will deal a body blow to those of us trying to use sustainable tourism to alleviate poverty,” he said.

“Tourism is the largest voluntary flow of resources from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have-nots’ of the world and the UK’s Air Passenger Duty is about to choke that flow.”

The British Government is proposing a reform to the APD, based on the distance travelled by passengers to and from UK airports. It said the aim is to ensure that those who travel far meet the cost of the environmental impact, but LeLaulu argued that in addition to stemming the flow of much-needed revenue for tourism-dependent countries, the UK tax will also adversely affect the attempts by long-haul carriers like Qantas, Virgin and Air New Zealand to cut their emissions through innovative technologies.

The revised APD regime will place long haul destinations like those in the Caribbean in one of the highest bands, with economy class passengers facing a tax of £50 (US$73) per ticket as of November 2009, and the amount increasing to £75 (US$110) in 2010. The proposed tax for premium economy, business, and first class tickets, will be double that amount.

The UK Air Passenger Duty will therefore hike air ticket costs from Britain to the Caribbean.
LeLaulu charged that this is “discrimination against the Caribbean region and illogically allocates it to a higher tax band than other major competing destinations”.

“The targeting of Caribbean flights suggests that the replenishment of the UK treasury coffers – and not the lowering of carbon emissions – is the primary aim of these punitive taxes,” he said, urging Latin American and Caribbean leaders to make a joint stand against these “punishing levies”.

LeLaulu, who is also a founding director of the World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, said if the UK wanted to help the region, it should “give those levies to the poorer countries who are twisting and turning to feed their people during the global financial crisis”, among other measures.

“If they want to help boost the UK economy as well as help to fight poverty in faraway lands, Prime Minister Brown should offer cash incentives to British citizens to encourage them to dig into their savings accounts and buy tickets on UK airlines and with UK-owned travel agents. By so doing UK travelers will use their savings accounts to help revive the UK economy and those of destination countries, rather than smothering the travel urge with this huge wet blanket of a tax,” he asserted.   
LeLaulu asserted the tourism industry continues to be amongst the most dynamic economic sectors generating a wide range of benefits, including a growing contribution to GDP and substantial foreign exchange earnings for all countries. The UK has become one the industry’s largest source markets and is one of the leading markets for many Caribbean countries.