Taxing Taxes

The coach rolled past the endless mountains and fields in the Alpine panorama of Austria to reach Innsbruck. We wanted to explore the magnificence of Innsbruck, but it was a visit to Wattens the market town of Innsbruck. Wattens is known for the crystal Glass Company of Swarovski, a pioneer in crystal jewellery, chandeliers, ornaments, figurines and artefacts.

There are many Swarovski showrooms in the world, but the one at Wattens was the first to be established by the owner Daniel Swarovski whose father owned a glass factory. Daniel’s knowledge of glass cutting helped him create a special machine which could cut glass with the right precision and perfection to turn it into the best crystal. He felt that these crystals substituted the precious diamonds and were affordable. The logo in the initial years was the Edelweiss flower which was replaced by the logo of the Swan in 1988.The crystals are exquisite and are known for their glitter and brilliance. Swarovski elements are loose, unbound crystals which are used by other companies too. There are varieties of crystal glass prepared from the basic version by adding various chemicals, however, the proportion of the elements used in Swarovski crystals has been a secret. Swarovski also deals with optical instruments and tools for grinding and drilling. These are named as Swarovski Optik and Tyrolit, and all these are operational in 170 countries with nearly three thousand stores. The Swarovski in Wattens lies in the cradle of Alpine Mountains dressed in a green head with a mouth which is actually a fountain. The entrance to the factory outlet is through a crisscross tunnel embezzled with gleaming lights that makes the visit a momentous one. There are restaurants, museum and many others that attract a huge crowd of tourists.

On entering Swarovski, we were led to glistening outlets which augmented the reality of Swarovski. We were free to move around, try the jewellery, feel the artefacts, and pick our choices. We looked forward to this visit as it meant authentic mementos for our near and dear ones at a reasonable price. The place had a variety of unbound crystals which could be woven into jewellery, artefacts, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, evening bags, finger rings, and many more. Everyone bought something or the other as we were informed that we could claim the VAT on the goods and services above 120 Euros before leaving the country. A free gift of a shining, solitary crystal which was threaded on a string was given away with every purchase. After a lengthy shopping and sightseeing, we visited a mall on the outskirts of Austria before moving to Italy. We do find all these goods either sold in India or available online, but the general idea was to lay a finger on the goods before purchasing it.

Taxes are mandatory and dynamic which can affect the economy of a country and affect the income, employment and living, but a tax recovered brings in immense joy especially in a foreign country. (Value added tax (VAT) is a multi-stage sales tax, the final burden of which is borne by the private consumer.) It meant paying taxes that were applied at each stage of production, assemblage and on the final product. We got our purchases after showing our passports and paying the bills in Euros. The authentication was to prove that we were tourists, and to recover the VAT which is applied differently in each European country. Our exit was from Milan in Italy. After a couple of days in Italy with a lot more shopping, we reached the airport at 6 in the evening to board the 10.30 flight. These four hours were for recovering the VAT that we had paid for all the goods. We saw people in a baffling queue at one of the counters with heaps of bills that kept fluttering owing to the strong winds that blew inwards. Some of us bought a few bottles of water as we felt drained after all the travel, and the queue was unanticipated. We kept waiting, a few of us were attended to, but very soon there was chaos and an announcement which directed us towards the checkout. We were informed that we could claim the refund after the checkout. We started queuing near the checkout area. The checkout took a longer time, and since we had reached the checkout arena earlier than we had imagined, we had to gulp the water down as the authorities said, ‘no water.’ We could carry the empty bottles if we wanted to. We drank sufficient water and threw away the bottles in the dustbin sadly as they were the most expensive bottles on the journey.

After the checkout formalities, we began to search the customs clearance center for the VAT recovery. We kept asking people who guided us in their own ways, and finally, we reached the counter which was in the basement. There were seating places where we huddled ourselves. We saw each one submit their bills, invoice, the documents, and the goods to the customs officer at the counter eagerly and then shake their heads vehemently as they moved away from the counter. The customs officer had stamped the form as a proof of export, but we were disappointed when we came to know that the money would be credited to our Credit Card account and could be recovered only after a couple of months. I wondered, “What about those who do not have a credit card”, perhaps, it would have been next to impossible. It was a matter of faith in their decision, nothing more could be done as it was half past 9 which meant that we had to board the flight. As we walked past various floors we saw lots of goods and chocolates being sold. Everywhere it said duty-free shopping, goods free of VAT……