Rendering of new terminal at Hewanorra AirportPassengers flying to St. Lucia now pay an extra $35 in roundtrip ticket costs, thanks to the new Airport Development Charge that took effect May 1.

The fee, designed to help fund the $140 million redevelopment and expansion project at Hewanorra Airport, affects air passengers arriving at or departing from St. Lucia, including those traveling on interisland regional airlines within the Caribbean as well as international lines from the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere. Passengers in transit less than 24 hours are exempt from the $35 fee.

Legislation regarding the fee was passed as part of the larger Airport Development Act by the St. Lucia government on Feb. 21, "but it had been two years in the discussion stages prior to that," according to Dona Regis, director of marketing and product development for the St. Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority.

The May 1 implementation date was preceded by an eight-week discussion period between the port authority; the Airlines Operators Community, which represents all carriers serving St. Lucia; as well as IATA, which collects the fee.

"In addition, discussions involved the local community, because we knew that any price increases would not be greeted warmly," Regis said.

The port authority also conducted research to determine the fee's impact, if any, on tourism to the island.

"St. Lucia is a high-end destination with many luxury properties," Regis said. "We do not attract or go after the spring break market. Many of our visitors are honeymooners or those getting married on the island, couples returning to St. Lucia during the winter season and others who favor small, upscale properties.

"We believe in the St. Lucia tourism product and do not believe that our target markets will react negatively to this new fee," she said.

However, the port authority will monitor visitor reaction through exit surveys and statistics.

"In the long term, a new airport is what is most important for St. Lucia," Regis said.

Plans call for a new international arrivals and departures terminal, jet bridges, expanded aircraft parking aprons and runways. No start date has been set, but construction is expected to take 24 months.

A statement issued by Liat pointed out that with the addition of the $35 fee, "taxes and charges paid on Liat tickets may in some instances represent more than 50% of the ticket price."

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