St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN); In response to Tuesday’s protest action by taxi and tour bus operators, the Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority are admitting that they do have challenges, however they are working in close consultation with stakeholders to improve the system.
Taxi bus drivers took to the streets of downtown Basseterre Tuesday morning (May 16) to express their dissatisfaction with the present dispatching system at Port Zante. They claim open air safaris based on where their kiosk is located, has been better positioned to get business. They also contend that the open air safaris are being allowed to sell tours below the established prices to get full loads of tourists while the taxi buses have to settle for two to four passengers for their tours.
This has been an issue for the past few months, the taxi drivers contend, saying it continues to impact their daily earnings.
CEO of the Tourism Authority Racquel Brown, speaking on WINN FM’s Voices program Wednesday (May 17), sought to explain the reason for the contention at Port Zante.
She said the authorities are aware of the issues, however the new dispatching system implemented in February is a work in progress, and they are seeking to remedy the situation to the benefit of all involved. The CEO added that the criticism that the Authority favours the open air safari operators over the taxi operators is inaccurate.
“Over the past couple of years we’ve had some challenges with the dispatching system and we’ve gotten feedback from taxi and tour operators, tour company operators as it speaks to what’s happening down at Port Zante. We had meetings with everyone that would have been affected when a ship came in.
“We agreed to come January 30 after having a series of stakeholder meetings and back and forth dialogue, we would implement a kiosk system. It was implemented on February 14 and the Tourism Authority therefore took over, or it returned to us, the management of the actual dispatching process.
“One of the main challenges, and we do understand and we’re very sympathetic to it, we’ve seen what has happened, the location of the open air safari it’s become contentious because they are right as you come out of the gate. However that location was not at any point decided on by the Ministry of Tourism or the St. Kitts Tourism Authority. It was in dialogue with the presidents and at two separate occasions and at two separate meetings we asked ‘where do you want to go, chose’, and they decided they wanted to stay where they are.
“So the perception that we put the open air safaris right outside the gangway as you come off the pier into the secured area was done deliberately; it was never done deliberately. However the optics of it makes it appear as if we placed them there.
“There’s also the contention as it speaks to the pricing and the Ministry is aware of it, and we are also aware that it’s not only the open air operators that are overcharging and undercharging at Port Zante. There are a few persons doing it to get more persons to be in their vehicle or on an open air safari. That is something we were going to address shortly in June when we make some revision to the system.”
The Tourism CEO said coming up with a solution that would be considered fair to all the operators at Port Zante is not an easy task, but assured that the taxi drivers’ concerns are being addressed.
“We can see the agitation and we can understand it. It is not easy to come up with a solution that it’s going to provide equity for all, and even in providing the equity for it all, we’re also going to find that it may not be seen as an answer.
“…So we’ve met with them and we got all of the issues out on the table and we discussed them. They too are not happy with some of our recommendations, however we have to try to find a solution that provides equity.”
Ms. Brown said the Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority continue to work with all of the stakeholders to grow the cruise sector with the intention of ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to make a livelihood from operating within the industry.