ADVENTURE TRAVEL – New Taxes in Paradise

Another in a continuing series on adventure travel destinations in your Twin Commander, authored by the founder of Air Journey (www.airjourney.com).

The Islands of the Bahamas are the closest paradise to U.S. shores. The 700-plus islands, cays, and islets in the Bahamas have more than 70 airports or strips available for the private pilot. It is a unique destination where many activities are offered, and with a very friendly population. If you want the best place for diving, snorkeling, fishing –– deep-sea or bone fish –– beachcombing, and partying, the Bahamas is the place to go.

Some facts about the islands: Covering more than 180,000 square miles, the Bahamas were discovered in the western world in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. It became a British Crown Colony in 1718 and an independent Common Wealth in 1973. The British Queen, Elizabeth II, is their monarch.

IMG_9636As for climate, keep in mind it never freezes in the Bahamas. The islands have never recorded any temperature below 0° C. More than 350,000 inhabitants reside in the Bahamas, of which 238,000 live in Nassau and 50,000 in Freeport. The remaining population is distributed throughout what we call the Out Islands.

Sixty percent of the Bahamian GDP comes from tourism. It’s considered a tax haven since there is no income tax or VAT tax. Most of the government’s income is from taxes levied on hotel rooms as well as a number of import taxes, duties, etc.

Over the last few years the Bahamas has improved its airport infrastructure. Go to Marsh Harbour, for example, to see a brand new runway and a soon-to-be-commissioned control tower. In many other islands, like Long Island and Cat Island, several important improvements have been made.

When you visit the Islands of the Bahamas as a private pilot you are subject to a $25 departure tax for each person in the airplane, including pilot(s). If we as pilots want the Bahamas to continue to improve the infrastructure and offer a fantastic destination, the government has to find new ways of getting additional money to finance improvements –– and it has.

IMG_9299For a number of years I have been a member of the Aviation Council of the Bahamas, and I am also a designated Aviation Ambassador. Out of nowhere the Minister of Finance decided, in the 2013 – 2014 budget that went into effect July 1, to levy new taxes on private planes visiting the Islands of the Bahamas.

The two main components are a $50 tax for private airplanes on recreational visits. The fee is paid on entering the Bahamas regardless if it is for an extended stay or just a technical stop. If the airplane is flown by a professional pilot or pilots, whether Part 91 private or Part 135 charter, then the fee is $75 on arrival and $75 on departure –– plus, of course, the $25 departure tax for each participant in the flight.

Needless to say there is a lot of controversy over these new taxes, especially the way they were not announced in advance as well as the lack of coordination between the different islands and lack of understanding on the part of local officials.

All of this is being worked on. I just came back from a meeting in Nassau with the Minister of Finance and a number of other participants in the aviation world. We are trying to get the new taxes waived until November 1 in order to understand their implications as well as to establish guidelines to make sure that people do not get overcharged. I have received a number of reports in the past two weeks of people traveling on their airplanes, which are registered to corporations, who were charged by the local authorities as commercial flights.

To try and offset this new additional tax the Bahamas is offering what they call a fuel credit. If you spend two nights in the islands, the fuel credit amounts to $150 per room. If you spend four nights, the fuel credit goes up to $300 per room.

This credit is given to you when you check out of the hotel where you are staying, but only if that hotel is part of the island promotional board of hotels. A list is available online (http://www.bahamas.com/deals-packages).

IMG_9710At Air Journey we have decided to extend this fuel credit to our escorted journeys to the Bahamas including Labor Day (August 30 – September 2), the Bahamas Treasure Hunt taking place on November 10 – 16, and the Bahamas Thanksgiving outing (November 27 – December 1) to Exuma International.

Do feel free to contact us (561 841-1551 or email thierry@airjourney.com) for the latest update on the tax situation. But keep in mind that our contribution of $50 per flight (or $150 if commercial) will help to keep the Bahamas a great destination ––  the closest paradise on Earth to the U.S. shore.