August 10, 2010
Recreational site visitor fees coming

Visitor expenditure is lowest in St.Vincent and the Grenadines when compared to the other member states of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).{{more}}

As a result of this, Government amended the National Parks Act 2002 on Thursday, August 5, paving the way for visitors to pay a fee when entering recreational sites throughout the state.

Glen Beache, tabling the bill for an act to amend the National Parks Act 2002, said a study done by the Florida Caribbean Cruiseline Association (FCCA) on visitor expenditure by cruiseline passengers shows that generally a passenger spends US$17.49 when visiting St.Vincent and the Grenadines, but US$110-$120 when visiting other Caribbean countries.

“This study has shown the potential that cruisehip passengers have to spend once we provide things that they are willing to purchase.

“We hope to improve on the visitor expenditure here in St.Vincent and the Grenadines and one of the things is in charging for some of these sites,” said Beache.

Beache added that a “Willingness to Pay” study done by the Ministry of Health in 2009 showed that local, regional and international visitors are willing to pay to enter recreational sites here. He added the Botanic Gardens was listed as their top choice.

“The amendment to this bill is very simple in what it aims to do. For example, the charging of fees for some of these different sites (the recreational sites developed by the European Union and Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines),” said Beache.

He said it was part of the deal with the EU that a charge be put in place for entrance to the sites.

“This is not new to the world. It might be something new to St.Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Beache.

Beache, however, noted that fees will not be charged for all of the sites.

He stressed that National Parks, under whose portfolio the 15 recreational sites across the states fall, will not be able to sustain the sites on its own.

“I want to make this promise to Vincentian people, whenever we put these fees in place, we are not looking to kill anybody,” said Beache, noting that the money made from the sites will not be enough to sustain them, but will go along way in assisting National Parks Authority.

Senator Daniel Cummings said in principle the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has no difficulty with the concepts of the amendment. However, he used the opportunity to identify some areas which needed a second look.

Cummings explained that the revised composition of the board, which numbers 13 members, predominantly from the public sector, poses a challenge. He said the members which include the Director General of Finance and Planning, the Head of Physical Planning, the Medical Officer of Health, the Director of Forestry, the Commissioner of Police and the Tourism Authority’s Chief Executive Officer, have a multitude of board meetings to attend. As a result, he said there is a low level of representation at some board meetings and boards become ineffectual.

He suggests that the board should be comprised of persons of business acumen who have proven themselves successful and could guide the entity in doing things more efficiently.

“You don’t want to be collecting more fees and finding that you’re spending that fee you collect and more, simply in keeping a bureaucracy. You want the thing to run efficiently and well,” said Cummings, adding the burdening of so many public officers does not bode well for him.

Cummings said he was also concerned that a provision in the amendment contradicts the Central Water and Sewerage Authority’s (CWSA) Act, which gives it exclusive responsibility over every body of water in the country.

“I note that this National Park Act also gives the National Park Authority responsibility for water, rivers, streams and so on. That is confusing and could lead to problems,” Cummings warned.

He said the CWSA also has exclusive rights for protected areas, but the revised act was now showing that the National Parks Authority also has restrictive rights for protected areas.

“I want us to avoid any possibility of conflict…. When it comes to the supply of domestic water as important as protected areas and National Parks are, it can come no where in the priority ranking when it comes to the protection of domestic water supplies,” said Cummings.