It was a dismal turnout by tourism stakeholders at a Town Hall meeting called by the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) at the Grenada Boys Secondary School to update them on the new proposed licensing fees to be put in place by the authority.
Only a handful of the main players in the tourism industry showed up for the event to hear what the GTA was proposing in terms of its fees for those operations that fall under its ambit for regulation.
In addressing the small gathering, GTA’s Manager of Quality Assurance, Alison Hall disclosed that section 28 of the GTA act states that no person shall operate any tourist accommodation or tourism enterprise unless that person first apply for and obtain a license in accordance with the regulation.
Hall said that tourism accommodations include any Apartment, Hotel, Guest House, Villa, Cottage or any other premises or place where accommodation is provided for tourists for rewards while Tourism enterprises include Car Rentals, Water Sport, Restaurants, Tour Operators, Taxi Drivers and Tour Guides.
She also sought to explain the licensing structure that will soon exist.
“The act seeks to speak to those persons who already pay a licensing fee to the Ministry of Finance. Now that would include operators of Restaurants, Hotels, and Guest Houses. So basically the new fee structure does not apply for those persons because they already pay a licensing fee to the Ministry of Finance”, she said.
“ What will happen is that the Minister of Finance has transferred by Order, the jurisdiction for the collection of those fees from the Ministry of Finance to the Grenada Tourism Authority,” she added.
According to Hall, the affected persons will soon be notified as to when they would have to start paying those fees to GTA.
The proposed fee structure for Apartments and Cottages is $600 and Villas is $1000 while Guest Houses will continue to pay $600.
There will be no changes to the fee structures put in place for hotels as hotels with 20 bedrooms or less would continue to pay $1000, those that fall into the category of 21 bedrooms to 90 will continue to pay $1500 and those over 90 bedrooms are pegged at $2500, restaurants the same $500.
The proposed fee for Vendors is now $35, an increase from $26.
The recommended fees for new tourism stakeholders like Tour Operators is $200, Taxi Drivers ($100), Car Rental Operators ($300), Water Sport Operators ($300) and Tourist Guides ($100).
Hall said that these fees must be paid in order for operators of these various businesses to get the required license to operate.
“In order to obtain a license for tourist accommodation or tourism enterprise, a person shall be subjected to an inspection, so whether you are the operator of a motor vehicle or accommodation, your property or your vehicle will have to be inspected”, she said.
“…The Tourism Authority on its own does not have the necessary skill set to do or facilitate that kind of inspection, so we work in collaboration with the Ministry of Health for the Restaurants, the Grenada Bureau of Standards, the Physical Planning Unit, the Ministry of Tourism and we work with the Royal Grenada Police Force, so those who operate motor vehicles, the Traffic Department will assist us in the inspection of those motor vehicles,” she remarked.
The new move by GTA has not gone down well with some of the stakeholders like Managing Director of Renwick & Thompson, Andrew Bierzynski and operator of River Tubing, Randall Robinson.
“I hear what you are saying and I expect you and Mr (Rudy) Grant (Chief Executive Officer of GTA) to say these things but if I look around here and I look at the representation and I look at the documents here which says who should be here, we hardly have a forum…”, said Bierzynski who also expressed the view that, “I regret to say that I remain skeptical”.
He went on to ask: “With all due respect, what are we paying for? What are we expected to get from the GTA after we spend this money?I ask the question because on past occasions, we have had to meet certain standards… what we do, we do on our own. We have our own standards and we have to try to beat ourselves every year.
“…We have been inspected by the Board of Tourism, now the Bureau of Standards – to date I have not had a report of their findings. All I see is that we are just going to be paying money here to go into the Government coffers and we are getting nothing in return.
Like Bierzynski, Robinson who is associated with the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) political party was not impressed with the process being used to introduce the new fee structures.
“…I am very weary of the process – you’re saying that we are not being strong armed but we’re being strong armed and the mere fact that you can say to us that you would let the foreigners know that we have to have the certificates … and if we don’t have it, don’t go there is another strong armed tactic”, he said.
“I’m looking at the fees, they seem reasonable, $200, but I pay $200 now and next year it’s going to be a $1000 and that is what I’m afraid of,” he added.
Hall and Grant responded to the concerns of Bierzynski and Robinson.
“You are maybe one of the many persons who are self-regulated but what you need to bear in mind is that if you are self-regulated, who do you bench mark against? What we need to bear in mind is that the Tourism Authority has the responsibility to market the destination”, Hall said.
“We cannot market a single entity – what we are trying to establish is that we have fixed standards that would have been benchmarked against the best in the world,” she added.
According to Grant, one of the things that GTA ought to be doing “is to be able to fully exploit the resources and the attributes of Grenada”.
“If we are going to do that we need to make sure that when a visitor comes here, the experience is such that that visitor has a fantastic and incredible time – now that is not going to be achieved certainly by relying on self-regulation,” he told the stakeholders.
The GTA Act makes provision for the Tourism Authority to charge licensing fees.
The authority has reportedly submitted the proposed fees to Cabinet for consideration and awaiting approval.