Caroline Courbois has been a regular visitor to the Bahamas since the 1960s — before, as she puts it, “crime became their number-one product.”
Decades ago, when she touched down in Nassau for the first time, she remembers that her ticket included everything. All taxes and other fees were rolled into the price of her fare.
Ah, those were the days.
When she looked at her ticket recently, she found a $20 ‘Bahamas Departure Tax’ for flights to the U.S. “In addition, there was a $20 Bahamas Airport Facility Fee, plus a Bahamas Security Tax of $7,” she says.
“I wonder where these outrageous fees for departure tax, airport facility fee and security tax end up?” she asked. “Just curious.”
That’s a fair question, given the recent discussion we’ve been having about airline taxes in the United States and “transparency.” And let’s not forget the airline industry’s efforts to redefine “transparency” so that they can quote a lower, but unbookable, fare.
Courbois’ question isn’t easy to answer, unfortunately. Like the rest of the Caribbean, departure taxes have been steadily rising as islands depend on them for revenue. The Bahamas Customs Department, the island’s principal revenue collection agency, accounted for roughly half of the total revenue collected for the Bahamas.
And it’s not an insignificant amount.
For the fiscal 2014/15 year, the Bahamas expects to collect $125 million in tourism taxes, of which roughly $50 million are air departure taxes. That doesn’t include about $21 million in hotel taxes.
Where does the money go? From what I can tell, these fees are used to pay for essential government services. In other words, when you enter and leave the beautiful Bahamas, you’re funding the Commonwealth — not unlike what happens in other popular destinations that rely on tourism.
I asked a representative of the Bahamas to help me with some of the history of the fees, and to explain what the taxes are used for. I never heard back. Perhaps the official was too busy trying to figure out how to raise taxes again.
I’m only half kidding. Last year, the Bahamas upped taxes for private planes. And this October, the island’s air departure taxes will climb to $29.
As to the question of where the money goes, I think you’d have to be a forensic accountant to know for certain. But maybe we can say where it doesn’t go.
“It certainly isn’t used to enhance the experience for travelers and appears not to be contributing to the welfare and well-being of Bahamian residents,” Courbois observed.
I, for one, think destinations like the Bahamas have taken their taxes too far. They’ve become — wait for it! — a little ridiculous. (If so, they’re not alone; you don’t have to look far — to the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe — for equally preposterous taxes on travelers. But that’s a topic for another day.)
Certainly, unless the government can do a better job of explaining why their taxes are necessary, and why they have to keep getting raised, this just smacks of opportunism. They have visitors over a barrel, and they know it.
Wanna vacation in the Bahamas? Pay the ransom and you can enjoy their gorgeous white sand beaches and pristine coral reefs. Don’t pay, and you can always take a staycation.