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2002-09-06 15:25:08

Meeting On Airport Tax

By Oswald T. Brown, The Bahama Journal

Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe was in Freeport on Wednesday for meetings with officials of the Grand Bahama Airport Company and the Grand Bahama Port Authority to discuss the controversial new facility fee that went into effect at the airport on Sunday, September 1.

Mr. Wilchcombe met with airport officials at the Container Port most of yesterday afternoon, and he reportedly met with Port Authority officials last night.

The outcome of those meetings was not known, but staff manning airline counters at Freeport International Airport and travel agents say the new fee structure was implemented as scheduled on Sunday and was still in effect Wednesday.

Prior to September 1, ticketed Bahamian passengers traveling from Freeport paid $15 departure tax, which went to the Government, and non-Bahamians paid $18, of which $15 went to the government and a $3 security fee went to the Grand Bahama Airport Company.

As of September 1, the security fee paid by non-Bahamians was increased to $5, which means that non-Bahamian passengers now pay $20 total departure tax, while the departure tax for Bahamians remains at $15.

But a source in the travel industry said that a $10 surcharge, which goes to the Grand Bahama Airport Company, has been built into the price of tickets purchased by Bahamians under the new fee structure.

"When we came into work on Monday," the source said, "the facility fee had already been built into the tickets by American Airlines, Continental Airlines and U.S. Air. When we print their tickets, it's already there."

The source said travel agents were "very upset" by it.

"We got a call from the airlines saying that we should warn the customers that when they come to the airport September 1, they were going to have to pay more than what they paid before," the source said. "The original call we got said everybody had to pay $30 departure from Freeport airport, but that has since been corrected where the $10 is actually put on the ticket when the ticket is purchased, and $15 as normal is paid at the airport. We have been told that $10 will go to the airport company."

Visitors boarding a flight to Baltimore, Maryland, on Tuesday had mixed reaction to the departure tax increase.

"Well it was a surprise to me because I was told that it was $18, but a $2 increase is not too bad," said Barbara Purcell of Frederick, Maryland. "If it means added security that's okay with me. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in The Bahamas. It could have been better if I had won some money at the blackjack table, but it was a good fun time. This is our third trip in six years and we definitely plan to return."

Scott Clawson, also of Frederick, Maryland, likewise rationalized that the increase was okay with him because "I want to be safe when I am traveling, so any kind of added security certainly offsets any inconvenience caused."

"I enjoyed my stay, and I shall be back," Mr. Clawson said. The safety factor was also cited by Vince Bilkaushas of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, when asked for his opinion on the increased security fee. "As long as it makes traveling safer, that's important," Mr. Bilkausas said.

But Keith Jackson of Washington, D.C., said that although the "$2 increase is not all that bad, I wish they had made everybody aware of it before we came here."

He said it was his first visit to The Bahamas and he "enjoyed the trip tremendously."

Donaldson Potts of Baltimore, Maryland, however, criticized the increase. "I resent it," said Ms. Potts, who said she is a frequent visitor. "I think I am paying enough tax automatically as it is, but this won't prevent me from coming back." 

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