BHTA still fighting for concessions

In the wake of a recent call by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur for an end to concessions to the tourism sector and other enterprises, the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) today revealed it was still fighting to access preferential allowances that government promised some time ago.

Delivering her final report at the BHTA’s fourth quarterly meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, outgoing Chief Executive Officer Sue Springer complained that there had been no resolution to the issue regarding duty-free concessions on food, and she vowed that the association would not back down until it was settled.

“The additional food items to be added for duty free concessions . . . has progressed no further. This is of grave concern to all of us. As a sector, once again will not have the benefits of those food items as concessions as we enter the upcoming winter season. I will continue until December 16, and I know [incoming CEO] Rudy Grant already knows we have to keep on top of this,” Springer said.

Outgoing BHTA CEO Sue Springer poses with her chosen successor Rudy Grant after being recognized for her contribution.

Hoteliers here had demanded equal treatment after Government, in 2013, granted Sandals a 25-year waiver of all taxes, duties and other similar compulsory payments on locally sourced or imported capital goods, all consumables for hotel operations, all food, alcohol and beverages, all Value Added Tax on services directly related to the construction or cyclical refurbishment of the property, similar exemptions on vehicles for commercial use at the property and similar exemptions on vehicles and personal effects for expatriate staff. At the end of the 25-year exemption, the taxes will be imposed at 50 per cent of the rates in force for another 15 years.

Government later amended the Tourism Development Act to allow hotels to import food, beverage and consumables. However, local hoteliers have continued to complain that they were yet to achieve parity.

Up to June this year only about 30 hotels had actually applied for the tax breaks, which up until that time only applied to imported alcoholic beverages and proteins, including meats and fish. Other items that cannot be sourced locally, including a range of cheeses, are yet to be added to the package of concessions.

In addition to the duty-free concessions, the BHTA is also battling to secure a reduction in the rate of the Value Added Tax to 7.5 per cent for direct tourism service membership, Springer said, adding that the request was still before Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler who is to decide on it.

Springer also reported that the private sector trade association was hoping to have a new system in place by the start of 2017 for liquor licences.

“We asked . . . that it should be a situation where you could renew it a little bit like your drivers licence and that it would be renewed every two years rather than every one year,” Springer said.

In terms of achievements, the outgoing chief executive reported that BHTA hotel members had paid all back pay and the increases in wages for 2016, following the signing of a three-year agreement with the Barbados Workers Union a year ago for an eight per cent increase in wages.

She added that the association had submitted draft protocols to the union on three of the outstanding issues –temporary or seasonal layoffs due to downturn in business, the administration of service charges under the collective agreement and the suggested guidance for scheduling employees covered by the collective agreement. “It is the intention of the parties to try and get consensus before the end of 2016,” Springer said. 

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