We are already half way through what will result in many cases, both locally and around the world as one, if not the most difficult years in living memory.
Frankly I have been disappointed that we have not witnessed more creative thinking and action among the wealth of tourism professionals, who reside and derive their main income from the sector in our country. While it’s almost impossible to compare our position with that of larger neighbours, sparks of ingenuity emerge from abroad.
Take the US state of Arizona as an example. Republican Senator Martha McSally introduced legislation that would enable Americans to deduct domestic travel expenses, which include lodging on their tax returns for the next three years. The American TRIP act would provide a US$4,000 travel credit for individuals and US$8,000 for joint filers, plus an additional US$500 credit for dependent children.
Justifying the concept, Senator McSally, (a former United States Air Force Colonel, the first US women to fly in combat and command a fighter squadron) pointed out that travel and hospitality has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Adding ‘Arizona has lost billions in revenue this year alone due to the pandemic’ and ‘my legislation will help boost domestic travel and jump-start the comeback of our hotels, entertainment sectors and local tourism agencies’.
I am not, for one second, suggesting that we attempt to adopt identical legislation, but it should open up our minds, that there are alternative ways of re-opening our tourism economy, rather than totally depending on overseas visitors, with all the challenges that entails. This form of tax credit could appeal to those who are still in meaningful employment and who have disposable income.
Another way may be to lift the recently imposed room levy and temporarily remove the VAT (value added tax) that is applied to accommodation and the latter on dining, at least until some sort of measured recovery takes place.
While Government will be clearly focused on tax collection to reduce the burden of further debt which has been compounded by Covid-19, it’s long term objective may be to ensure as many businesses as possible avoid bankruptcy and return to profitability in the middle to long term, ultimately making them subject to corporation and all the additional taxes that viability and full employment brings.
Some may reasonably argue that the current timing is not right, but when will it ever more likely to be?
Are ‘we’ going to wait until more businesses are shuttered and beyond realistic recovery?
Surely now, while ‘we’ still have the time, to finally implement the long promised duty-free concessions right across the tourism sector.
It cannot be right or proper that a single entity still extracts unique trading advantages, especially when we consider the fact that most of its derived income stays offshore.
If levelling the playing-field has any real meaning to those who have taken the greatest risk and ploughed almost, if not everything, into their country, let it be clearly demonstrated and raised as a beacon to encourage further local investment.