British Virgin Islands bound passengers were alarmed last month when ferry agents at the various USVI ferry counters informed that there was a required $10 fee. Albeit no official explanation for the fee was given, reasons for the sudden implementation and why ferry operators were collecting said fees on behalf of the USVI authority was not given.
The implementation did not sit well with some BVI travellers who were still adjusting to the August 2013 departure fee hike here, and bracing for the July, 2014 $5.00 increase.
One ferry passenger commented that “the new USVI tax seems a retaliation for the BVI tax, and taxing travellers and tourists is a way to keep them home, not the best way to promote tourism and inter-island business; for the sake of cashing a few dollars both BVI and USVI will lose substantial business.”
As a means of garnering answers about the sudden USVI fee, members of the media questioned BVI Leader Premier, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith as to whether the decision was communicated to the Government by the neighbouring Territory, and if the BVI’s implementations of seaport departure fees was meant to be a deterrent.
Premier Smith explained that Government was never informed of the USVI’s fee increase, but nonetheless assured that the fees on this end were not meant to be deterrents. In fact, Hon. Smith said: “No, there was no discussion. The USVI is their own territory, and we cannot decide what tax should be imposed, nor can they decide what taxes we should impose. So it doesn’t matter…We endeavour to give visitors a better experience, but with all countries there must be ways to increase revenues so that they can provide the services for the same visitors who are coming by building infrastructures, providing roads, providing hospitals, providing clinics.”
When asked by reporters if he thinks the USVI tax was reciprocity in light of taxes the BVI imposed, Premier Smith said: “I don’t think so, I think the USVI as well as the BVI and many other territories in the Caribbean are having difficulties with their financial commitments and they must look for ways to increase their revenues.”
USVI Daily News announced that the V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe met with the three BVI-to-USVI ferry operators and held a public hearing prior to the implementation of the fees which requires a $5 inbound and $5 outbound fee. It was announced that the increase is the first in almost 20 years. It was approved by the USVI Port Authority board and went into effect on April 1.
According to the report the USVI Port Authority plans to use the revenue to repair the ferry docks and facilities which they claim is in need of urgent repair. It was also stated that the new fees will help to make travel to the Territory easier for BVI passengers. As part of the port improvement there would be the construction of U.S. Customs house in Red Hook which will eliminate the need for travelers from the BVI to check in on St. John before arriving on St. Thomas, plus, other things including the improvement to the existing parking lot etc.