High cost of intra-regional travel can impact Caribbean Premier League

There has been a growing call from within the Caribbean—most recently Barbados—for there to be greater emphasis on Sport Tourism in order to take advantage of the numerous benefits available.

In fact, just last year several islands in the Caribbean benefitted from the squadrons of ‘Barmy Army’ or English supporters who followed their cricket team here for the series against the West Indies. Over 4,000 English fans booked rooms, spent money on travel, food and of course drink, over a six week period. The effect of that in islands like Saint Lucia is significant.

Closer to home the one sporting event that possibly has the biggest impact has been the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Now in its seventh year, the CPL has grown from strength to strength, attracting large crowds at venues all over the Caribbean. Everyone is happy when the CPL bandwagon rolls into town, and although the tournament depended on financial support early on, its success has now led to not only lucrative television contracts but significant interest from foreign investors, most recently the acquisition of the Saint Lucia Zouks by KPH Dream Cricket Private Limited, the owners of the popular Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise the Kings XI Punjab.

Patrons at a recent cricket event in the region.

In fact, Kings XI are the second IPL team to invest in the CPL, following Shah Rukh Khan and his Kolkata Knight Riders buying into the Trinidad and Tobago based franchise (now Trinbago Knight Riders). The Caribbean is the only place where IPL teams have invested in such a manner outside of India.

In 2019 the CPL reported that its overall economic impact across the region was US$136 million. The CPL said it employed 1,500 staff, filled 36,830 hotel rooms and saw an overall increase in visitor arrivals. However there is one issue that continues to be a major sticking point, and that’s the high cost of intra-regional travel. The issue came up recently during a press conference at Sandals Grande Saint Lucia Resort and Spa, to announce the news that Kings XI had acquired the Zouks. Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and immediate past Chair of CARICOM Allen Chastanet was asked whether countries will review the high tax rates many of them have in place, however, he said the dynamics that influence the cost of inter-island travel were not straightforward.

Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and immediate past Chair of CARICOM Allen Chastanet.

“We made it very clear that if in fact there is consensus among the other CARICOM countries we would be willing to look over that number [tax rate]….at the last meeting we had, OECS meeting I see that is starting to resonate, but we must be cognizant that countries like Dominica or St Vincent that don’t have a lot of international travel, the cost to run their airports are going to be borne more by CARICOM travel, so how low we go is the question that needs to be answered.”

The Prime Minister said he was encouraged by the appointment of former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur as Chairman of LIAT, and thinks it bodes well for the future of the airline. Even so, Mr Chastanet conceded that the lack of competition on the regional routes is also a major challenge, adding that it took him almost a day to get from St. Kitts to St. Lucia.

Former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur appointed as Chairman of LIAT.

But while CARICOM wrestles over the issue, the cost of travel in the region remains a major impediment to the true impact that the CPL can have. Its Chief Operating Officer Pete Russell gave an example of the difficulties faced by fans of the Guyana Amazon Warriors who wanted to attend the final in Trinidad last year. “It’s wrong that people from Guyana had to pay up to US$1,000 to get to Trinidad, it’s just not right.” The CPL executive assured the Prime Minister that his organisation would do all it can to assist.

However this is not a new issue, and its impact goes well beyond sport tourism. In fact it has led to the formation of a group called Citizens against High Intra Regional Caribbean Travel Taxes, who only recently lobbied the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Brown to raise the matter with CARICOM. The group, which has the support of over 20,000 Caribbean travelers, has been lobbying regional Prime Ministers for some time, with no success.

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Brown.

Prime Minister Browne cited security costs as a major factor behind the high rate of taxes, and while he is among a host of regional leaders who appear to empathise with the travelling public, there is nothing that indicates there will be any changes anytime soon. It does make one wonder about just how much they might be losing out … if people had to the opportunity to take their families to neighbouring islands rather than to Miami or New York, which ironically, cost much less at the moment.