The airfare to Miami is less than to Barbados, so tell me, why should I visit Barbados? If Caricom is to realize the goal of promoting economic integration and cooperation among Caribbean people, then we must have access to each other. High regional airfares between countries act as a disincentive to regional travel. Taxes, Fees, and Charges (TFC) account for 40% of airfares. Imagine the boost to intra-regional travel which would occur if airfare went down by 40%!
In 2019, over 20,000 citizens in the Caribbean and the Diaspora signed a petition asking Caribbean leaders to review the current TFC regime on intra-regional travel and take action to reduce the high travel taxes applied to regional travel. The petition was championed by the lobby group – “Citizens Against High Intra-Regional Caribbean Travel Taxes (CAHIRTT)”. So far there has been no response to those tens of thousands of citizens who have tried to make their voices heard. In seeking support for their petition CAHIRTT commented that “Over-taxing regional travel is counter-productive to regional connectivity and the growth and productivity of our economies.”
The region’s annual hotel occupancy averages 60% which means that in a 100-room hotel, 40 rooms are continuously empty. Imagine if another 20 or 30 rooms could be occupied continuously. Decreased airfare is one way to stimulate intra-regional travel for both business and leisure.
Studies have shown that increased visitor arrivals lead to increased economic activity, more tax collection, increased employment, and general stimulation of economies. If the region ever needed economic stimulation the time is now.
A recent article in the Trinidad Express by Asha Javeed reported Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) as commenting that: ‘As part of our strategic plan, we continue to focus on improving regional connectivity. Caribbean Airlines enjoys the largest network in the region, with plans to expand, within the ambit of our resources.’ I welcome this focus because regional connectivity is important for our region to thrive.
It is our reality that measured on a per-mile flown basis the Caribbean region tops world airfares. As the primary owners of CAL, the Trinidad and Tobago Government must lead the charge and reduce the 40 percent TFC on airline tickets in the region. Such bold action will help CAL achieve its strategic objective of “improving regional connectivity” and provide support for Caricom to achieve its main purpose of promoting “economic integration and cooperation among its members”.
So, we must aim for the day when a ticket to Barbados is lower than the price of a ticket to Miami. This Barbados/Miami analogy is being used to make the point that the price of intra-regional travel must inspire citizens to travel both for business and pleasure.