BVI hiking departure tax for ferry, charter boat users

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ST. THOMAS - If people want to live in or visit the British Virgin Islands, they are going to need some extra pocket money - assuming they want to leave and return home at some point.

The BVI Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Finance are hiking up the departure tax for residents and non-residents leaving the British overseas territory via water transportation.

The tax currently is $5 per person for residents and non-residents. The tax increase, which will go into effect Aug. 1, will make the tax $10 per person for residents and $15 for non-residents.

The increased tax will be for people leaving the British Virgin Islands via any kind of water transport, including but not exclusive to ferries, charter boats and private boats.

"This territory has been feeling the effects of stagnant revenue growth for some time now," said Orlando Smith, premier of the British Virgin Islands, in a statement May 14 to the territory's House of the Assembly.

Smith also said that the hike in the tax will absorb some of the revenue that the territory has lost since fewer people are traveling to and from the territory by plane, and more are visiting by boat, namely in and out of St. Thomas.

People leaving by airplane also are charged a departure tax, but it is $20 for each adult and $5 for each child. The airplane departure tax still will be more expensive, but many people still find the tax increase for people leaving by boat too high.

"It's something that hasn't gone up every year," said April Glasgow, public information officer for the BVI Office of the Premier.

Glasgow said she could not say what the additional revenue, which will go toward the territory's port authority, will be used for, nor how much the Ministry of Finance expects to earn from the increase.

Few of the people who frequently visit the BVI, either on the weekends or on vacation, are thrilled about the new tax.

"It's just such a big increase," said Hollis Jenkins, who owns New Horizons and Breakaway Charters, based at Sapphire Beach and Marina. "We kind of knew it was coming down the pipeline."

Jenkins and other local charter owners are concerned that the new fees will discourage tourists from traveling to the BVI because many of the charters would need to increase their charges.

"Obviously we are going to have to raise our prices, because we can't absorb $10 a head. I can't see anything good coming from this," Jenkins said.

For those not traveling to the BVI as a service to others, the personal cost increase is a concern.

Many charter-run operations will have to raise their prices also because they offer all-inclusive packages and try to frugally provide clients with the full experience that they want. Adding $15 per person will not be an option for many of them.

"It's pretty steep. They're already operating to the bone as it is," said Kelly Kiernan, director of the Virgin Islands Charter Yacht League.

Most of the charges that charter owners already have in place go directly back into the maintenance of a boat and the business, she said.

"A few of our boats already have explored staying in the U.S., going on shorter trips," Kiernan said. More boats may choose to do the same because of the tax increase, she said.

Travelers who are privately touring the region, or who are based in the U.S. Virgin Islands, also may stay within the U.S. territory to avoid the extra expense.

Bruce White, manager of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, said he expects more people will try to skirt the tax by avoiding the area.

Others may try to sneak into the territory without paying it, such as a few people did earlier this month, he said. However, they got caught, and the local authorities put them in jail, he said.

"They keep making it harder and harder to play there," White said of the BVI. "I think it's definitely going to make people think twice."

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