Could there, at last, be light at the end of the tunnel for the Caribbean in its fight for a fairer playing field where Air Passenger Duty is concerned?
Ever since the spectre of the new tax emerged some years ago, it has been a cause for controversy. And with the second round of increases coming into force earlier this month, the need for reform has taken on a more urgent need.
The main point of contention surrounds the four banding levels that critics say place the West Indies at more of a disadvantage than other destinations further away.
How can it be fair, they ask, that air passengers pay more to fly to the Caribbean than Hawaii?
How indeed? No one can argue with the facts. Hawaii is around 7,200 miles from the UK while, for example, Barbados is 3,000 miles closer. Yet Hawaii is in the less expensive Band B while the Caribbean is in Band C.
The bandings are actually based on the distances to the capital cities of each country – in this case Washington DC and Bridgetown – a formula branded as iniquitous and illogical by Caribbean nations.
In an impressive show of strength and unity, the region mobilised its tourism leaders in an intensive lobbying campaign that took them to the corridors of power at Westminster.
Their strong words and determination brought tea and sympathy aplenty from MPs – but none of the reforms they asked for, even following the change of government. Faced with such an implacable stance, Caribbean leaders knew they could not afford to accept defeat especially as the number of British tourists to the region has already dropped.
Instead, they have changed tack. Amid high-level discussions at last week’s World Travel Market in London, tourism chiefs revealed their latest idea – to replace the current bands with a two-tier system placing European destinations in one band, and the rest of the world in the other.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation says just £1 extra APD on flights in Europe could enable cuts of up to £50 on long-haul flights, and even increase revenue. Suggesting a system with potential to bring in even more money to Britain’s cash-strapped coffers could prove to be too tempting a prospect for the government to refuse – leading to the breakthrough the West Indians have been looking for.
But for now, having delivered their report to the powers that be, all the Caribbean countries can do is wait and hope. They’re not in the mood for giving up – there’s simply too much at stake.
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