Caribbean ports rock the boat with cruise passenger tax http://www.busrep.co.za/general/print_ar...&fSetId=304
Caribbean ports rock the boat with cruise passenger tax
By Mark Stevenson
Mexico City - A revolt is growing in the Caribbean over increasingly massive cruise ships disgorging thousands of passengers who swamp beach towns, buy perhaps a soft drink and a few trinkets, and re-embark a few hours later.
Mexico's government is considering charging its first per-passenger cruise tax, while beach towns that no longer want to serve as a mere backdrop for the $15 billion (R100 billion) cruise industry are starting to say no to the big ships.
Belize recently became one of the first nations to try to limit arriving liner passengers.
The tiny Caribbean nation capped them at 8 000 a day after it was invaded by about 13 000 people simultaneously - equivalent to a sudden 5 percent increase in its population.
The movement has support from groups ranging from hotel owners to environmentalists, who say the ships leave few benefits in their wake. Discontent has been fed in part by the explosive growth in arriving cruise passengers - tripling in Mexico in the past decade.
Mexico's tourism secretariat submitted a proposal on July 28 to charge between $5 and $10 for each of more than 5 million cruise passengers who visit Mexico each year.
Other tax proposals appear to be making headway in the rest of the Caribbean, where almost half the world's cruise voyages take place.
The Mexican tax proposal represents a victory for Playa del Carmen, a town that last year became one of the region's first ports to reject a cruise ship dock unless the industry paid a fee for local development.
Playa del Carmen spokesperson Angel Torres said: "There have been shows of support from other towns, and this position is becoming generalised throughout the Caribbean."
Playa del Carmen's mayor wanted to impose a tax of $30 for each passenger who used the proposed dock to come ashore at the nearby resort of Xcaret.
Industry leader Carnival Cruise Lines, a partner in the Xcaret dock project, brushed off the town's demands.
"It was a ridiculous amount of money," said Carnival spokesperson Tim Gallagher. The companies already paid a significant amount in local service charges.
However, in Mexico, those port fees go to private harbour management companies, not the communities. And the shops along cruise docks are often owned or leased by the cruise companies.
The Xcaret dock project was put on hold, but opposition has not waned.
The industry appears ready to fight any increase. It pressed Belize for a five-year moratorium on a proposed $2 increase in its $5 passenger tax. Belize had planned to use the money to protect its coral reefs and jungles.
The industry barely managed to beat back a 2003 proposal in the 32-member Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) to charge a uniform $20 passenger tax to fund marketing for the region. That would be in addition to levies of between $3.50 and $5 in many Caribbean states.
Karen Ford Warner, the deputy secretary-general of the CTO, said she believed negotiators would soon reach a compromise under which the cruise lines would give the region cash, training, or even promises to recruit locally and buy local products.
Published on the web by Business Report on September 1, 2004.