CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St.Thomas --- The Caribbean Tourism Organization's proposed $20 head tax on cruise passengers fueled many of the discussions at the 26th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference here.

With few exceptions, tourism ministers were reluctant to commit their governments -- one way or the other -- regarding the tax.

The proposal was alternatively referred to as a ticket tax, a head tax, and a passenger cruise tax.

Edison Briesen, minister of tourism for Aruba, said "we will support it.

And, James Hepple, executive director of the Curacao Tourist Board, said that "there has to be a change in how the Caribbean markets itself and the way in which the Caribbean funds its marketing programs on a regional basis. We have to explore new options and this is one."

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, declined comment and instead said he would "await the final announcement from the caucus of the tourism ministers."

Jamaica's Carrole A. M. Guntley, director general of Jamaica's ministry of industry and tourism, said that "Jamaica will fall in line with whatever CTO decides."

Dwyer Astaphan, tourism minister of St. Kitts, described the proposed tax as a "ticket tax that would be built into each airline ticket and directed to a professional fund- management company to be dispersed to various islands for various purposes, such as passenger security and safety measures, maritime conservation. If a sufficient number of governments approve this initiative, I believe it will answer the needs for a new source of sustainable funding to direct resources to critical areas."

Dr. Orlando Smith, minister of tourism for the British Virgin Islands, declined to take a position "at this time."

Although Theo Heyliger, economic affairs and tourism minister for St. Maarten was not at the conference, he had earlier labeled the proposed tax "an economic disaster" for St. Maarten, if approved.

Heyliger reportedly said the tax was not in the best interests of St. Maarten and that it would send business to a competing destination that does not levy the tax.

Antigua reportedly had earlier rejected the proposal and Dominica was expected to reject it, according to reports.

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

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