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KINGSTON — The Senate on Friday (July 22) passed amendments to the Tourism Enhancement Fund Act to increase the fees paid by airline passengers visiting the country from US$10 to US$20.

Minister of National Security and Leader of Government Business, Senator the Hon. Dwight Nelson, who piloted the Bill, explained that the amendments will also allow for the collection of fees upon issuance of one way tickets.

"Scheduled airlines have not been collecting the fees from persons travelling to Jamaica on their airlines with one way tickets. These carriers claim that there is no obligation on the part of the airline to collect fees on one way tickets that are issued," he said.

He informed that upon collection of the applicable fees, airlines have 45 days to pay over the amount to an authorised officer.

Meanwhile, Opposition Senator Noel Sloley stated that the Opposition will not support the increased fees, citing concerns about the "lack of accountability and transparency" in the handling of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the removal of "active industry players" from the board. He also claimed that the fund was being used for projects outside of its original mandate.

"We cannot support an increase to the fund until the corrective action is undertaken to fix the administration and the management of the fund and return responsible industry players to the decision making process of the fund," he stated.

Government Senator Dennis Meadows expressed disappointment with the position taken by the Opposition, noting that the TEF has benefited industry stakeholders.

"Those who criticise the fund for funding products outside of its statutory remit must also bear in mind the people, who serve the product and on whose shoulders the product depends; they also must derive some benefit from the fund itself," he stated.

Senator Nelson, in his response noted that both Senators have raised some "very fundamental points".

"They have expressed some concerns that cannot be ignored, which I am sure will be conveyed to the Minister of Tourism for his consideration and response," he said.

The TEF was established in 2005 with the primary role of funding projects earmarked for execution in the Tourism Master Plan, which is aimed at enhancing Jamaica's image and positioning the country as a premier tourist destination.

These activities include upgrading craft markets, providing assistance to small hotels, and improving heritage sites and resort areas.

Some 163 programmes have so far benefitted including road rehabilitation projects in communities such as Flanker, Norwood, Lilliput in St. James; and upgrading of heritage sites including historic Devon House, Ward Theatre, Hope Gardens, as well as beautification work in Port Royal.

By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter