Letter to the Editor: The chicken with the golden eggs has already been decapitated

Letter to the Editor: The chicken with the golden eggs has already been decapitated

I have been working in the tourist business on Bonaire for more than thirty years. First as a dive instructor, then as a dive shop manager, and now own my own dive business for over 20 years. I also owned and ran a hotel and a restaurant.

During various periods of those years I sat on the boards of BONHATA, CURO, STCB, STINAPA, and FPKB just to name a few, and was asked to join others. My point being is that I am a bit of an insider in the tourist industry and my participation in all of those NGO’s was out of a deep felt care and love for our island. 

Just days ago it was announced that a flat tourist tax of $75 per visitor and per visit would be levied. 

Please allow me to share a reaction of one of my guests. This particular guest has been diving with me for thirty years, and brings a group of up to forty divers with him every year who all have the same love for our island. Many of them have become TCB ambassadors, and all of them should be. He himself is a recipient of the golden flamingo, the highest award given by the TCB, to some of the most appreciated travel partners of Bonaire:

“I just got word of the new tourist tax. I really look forward to going to Bonaire and being with my friends and sort of family – but you know that. With that said I am seriously considering cancelling and sending the people their money back because no money has changed hands.  Your thoughts?”

The reason for his reaction is not that he is against a tax, on the contrary. He understands that it takes funds to maintain the beautiful island and its people he so dearly loves. 

And that is where it goes wrong. For his taxes he might expect modern infrastructure, to arrive in an airport that has slightly more to offer than a tiny open luggage room, equipped with a toilet where the tiles fall off the wall, and where people collapse in the summer heat. Safe roads, which he might use without the need of a kidney belt, bike lanes, proper sidewalks, better tourist and public amenities. Public access to sea, beach and parks. For his taxes he might expect better environmental protection, rather than the constant chipping away of it. For his taxes he would like to see the people of Bonaire to benefit from them more than they do now.

And I could not agree with him more. But I understand the idea and the move. The current tourist tax and fee system is a costly administrative nightmare and easy subject to fraud, evasion and false competition. A far cry from complete compliance. A levy at entry point (or online) is the solution. 

But complete inescapable compliance, rather than non or low compliance, means an enormous increase in revenue even at the same or even lower taxl evel. And that would be great. But an increase without so much as a presentation, consideration, suggestion, let alone completion of improved services, infra and facilities, is simply not palatable. 

There are other ways to do this. A fabulous chance for change discarded. All my guests would proudly contribute to benefit Bonaire, to its future, to its people, they love to visit. But to just (over)charge them for the sake of charging without clear and visible benefits will cause many tourists to no longer wanting to visit, which in turn, as the rest of the world opens up to compete with us as well, might cause a (sharp) recession. 

The chicken with the golden egg decapitated….

Bart Snelders

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