CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Thomas -- The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) delayed any decision at its recent 26th Annual Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC-26) here on its call for a $20 per person cruise tax.

CTO officials said they will seek feedback from the cruise industry before voting on the issue.

Wilchcombe said discussion of the tax has been only informal and that the CTO "is very flexible about how high the tax would be if approved. We don't want to hurt the industry. All of us realize the cruise industry is vital to our growth and development. It could be $100. It could be $10. It could be nothing."

No date has been set for further discussions, although Wilchcombe indicated they could take place before the end of the year or early in 2004.

Michael Ronan, director of destination development for Royal Caribbean International, who served as a panelist at a cruise industry workshop during CTC-26, said that the cruise industry "would much prefer to sit in a room with the key decision makers and talk about what we can do to better address the concerns of the destinations."

Meanwhile, CTO chairman Obie Wilchcombe said that he and Caribbean Hotel Association president Simon Suarez buried their differences and resolved that "our organizations should have a meaningful relationship working together to move Caribbean tourism to the level that we want it to attain."

Wilchcombe's comments referred to a letter sent earlier last week by Suarez to the CTO, calling for the resignation of the CTO's secretary general Jean Holder.

Wilchcombe responded by saying that when "it is time to retire, he [Holder] will do so with dignity and in the true character of a Caribbean statesman.

In an effort to explain his importance to the CTO, Holder described the complexity of his job in dealing with 30-plus countries that speak four different languages, "some are independent, some report to mother countries. In addition we must interact with airlines, cruise lines, hotels, travel agents, wholesalers, tour operators and media. Even the United Nations doesn't have this complexity and I've been doing it for 39 years."

Holder said that private sector members want their share of benefits "but don't put anything on the table in the way of funds. We feel that what we do is useful and extraordinary. If the record does not speak for itself, then that's it."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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