“It all adds up,” Leader of the Opposition and First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie announced in a debate on the Environmental Protection and Tourism Improvement Fund Act 2017 before it was passed with amendments on 18 April.
In explaining the objects and reasons of the Bill, Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith explained that Clause 3 of the Bill calls for visitors to pay a $10.00 fee whether they arrive by air or sea: “An environmental levy at the rate of $10 shall be levied on and payable by each visitor arriving in the Virgin Islands by air or sea. A specified sum of money shall be included in the cost of a ticket collected by the owner, master or any agent for any vessel, or by any person through whom passengers are brought into the Virgin Islands.”
This fee, the Premier said will go towards funding environmental protection efforts and tourism industry needs: “The Minister shall direct that the monies of the fund be applied towards activities related to environmental protection improvement, climate change and other matters affecting the environment, the maintenance and development of tourism sites and other tourism-related activities throughout the Territory, and the marketing of the Territory as a premier tourist destination,” Premier Smith pointed out.
However, while noting that he supports efforts to safeguard the environment and improve tourism, Leader of the Opposition Hon. Fahie pointed out that the $10.00 although it may seem small can contribute to making the cost of travel to the BVI look rather expensive to visitors. He further noted that the new levy is also a matter of concern for residents who spoke to him.
“One of the concerns that have been raised to me by persons from Jost Van Dyke to Anegada when they heard about this. Two other areas they are concerned — whether it be visitors or locals that we are starting to rack up … a lot of taxes. While all of them when we do them are needed because they’ll always be promoted as needed. Of course we must protect the environment, but I have a concern which was raised earlier in terms of how would we get that money collected into the government’s coffers when their travelling by sea given our past history and concern,” Hon. Fahie said.
In illustrating how the cost adds up, Hon. Fahie said: “It might seem like $10.00 is nothing, what’s the big deal with $10.00 — well if you have a family of four that’s $40 and that’s the environmental tax that’s coming and if you include the departure tax that already went up to about $15.00… that’s $60 and that’s a $100…and you didn’t get roundtrip ticket…didn’t get on the boat yet and … you didn’t pay the porter for putting the bags on. We have to be careful how we handle these things because this is the reality…that’s a lot of money for people whether they are visitors or not,” he pointed out.
“Looking at all the taxes that have been passed over the last three years to get to the BVI, and even from the BVI it is a challenge whether you be a visitor or a local. Even though the locals in terms of those who live here are not the ones subject to this fee at this time we must admit that when you add all these little fees up for all these things that we continue to pass here in this House, planning for a vacation as a family becomes a task financially so we have to be mindful,” he pointed out.
In explaining how the levy also affects residents Hon. Fahie said: “Without the visitors, the tourists — the common man on the ground that is where they make their money from through the tourism industry, because financial services has its place. So we have to be careful along these lines even in the future with any more levies and taxes we’re bringing whether it be on the visitors or on the locals…”
“We keep looking at it as five dollars we looking at it as $10.00 we looking at it as just this just that just the other. Each time it comes we look at it individually, but when it continues to add on to an individual collectively the financial burden that they are already experiencing in the Virgin Islands becomes greater, and has become greater in some respects,” he added.
The subject of whether the additional levy would be too much for the visitors to the Territory to bear was indirectly answered by Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Archibald Christian who announced: “I don’t think any of us should give the impression that tourist are going to squawk about paying a $10.00 levy. If I had my way, if it were me alone crafting this bill – but it’s not me alone – this bill would have some contribution to be paid by us as well; we who reside here. But, for today, it’s about tourism and the environment.”
However, in looking at the subject from a different angle Third District Representative, and Opposition Member Hon. Julian Fraser expressed concern about whether the funds collected would actually go towards funding environmental matters: “Very little of it will go towards the environment unless it is specified here in the Act what percentage of it shall go towards the environment,” the Opposition member disclosed.
Exemption for Cruise Passengers
Meanwhile Minister of Communication and Works Mark Vanterpool announced that he supported the implementation of the levy. However, he stated that he would suggest that cruise passengers who are already paying head tax be exempted: “I don’t know if that’s where we will protect our situation where the cruise ship passengers are already paying their $15 head tax, and therefore they will be exempted from this.”
“We have to make sure that it is abundantly clear that anyone interpreting this [Bill] may be clear on that, so we want to talk about that in committee and see that we are clear on that,” Hon. Vanterpool stated.