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New Passport Rules May Hurt Caribbean Tourism Could Cost Islands $2.6B
Passport Rule May Hurt Caribbean Tourism
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSApril 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- New U.S. travel rules aimed at closing America's borders to terrorists may cause trouble for an unintended target -- poor Caribbean countries seeking vital U.S. tourist dollars, regional officials say.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month announced new rules that mean Americans used to traveling to the islands with a driver's license or birth certificate will have to have passports.
''It's been so easy to travel here that this will definitely impede visitor flows,'' said Paul Pennicook, head of the state tourism board of Jamaica, where more than half of U.S. tourists enter without passports.
''The Americans may just say 'what the hell' and go somewhere else,'' said Godfrey Dyer, head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association.
U.S. visitors represent the region's largest tourism market, accounting for 53 percent of last year's almost 22 million visitors, excluding cruise ship passengers, according to the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.
An estimated 60 million Americans have passports.
Under the new Homeland Security regulations, Americans returning from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America must show passports starting Dec. 31. But those returning from Canada and Mexico only have to show passports starting Dec. 31, 2006.
Caribbean officials stress they're not opposed to the border-tightening measures but say the extra year for Canada and Mexico gives their competitors an edge in attracting Americans without passports.
The Bahamas Hotel Association president said the earlier start date for the Caribbean will hurt visitor arrivals by discouraging ''impulse travelers'' who book last-minute trips and don't have passports.
''The implementation timetable presents the industry ... with a huge challenge,'' said Earle Bethel. ''We're not against the measure in the least, but we'd like to be given the same time as Canada and Mexico.''
To avoid losing ground, some tourism leaders are calling for intense lobbying to pressure the United States for more time to raise awareness about the passport requirement, which comes as the region continues to struggle to recover from a slowdown in travel after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Others are taking a more creative approach.
The Jamaica-based resort chain SuperClubs announced it would cover the cost of getting passports -- about $100 each -- in all-inclusive holidays booked for next year.
''We wanted to take away the hassle so people who want to come can,'' vice president Zein Nakash said.
Concerns the measure might hinder cross-border commerce prompted President Bush to order a review of the plans, saying it must be more flexible.
The plans could include the use of unnamed ''additional documents'' still being considered, but the passport would remain ''the document of choice'' for re-entry, according to a Homeland Security information sheet.
Some Caribbean countries like Barbados already require passports from Americans.
A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston doubted the plan would hurt travel to the Caribbean, famous for its white-sand beaches, lush vegetation and diverse culture.
''When people love a place, they will go there,'' Glenn Guimond said.
Some U.S. tourists agree.
''Jamaica has its own unique charm and vacation value to attract her fair share of travelers,'' said Mark Bayer, 51, of Reading, Pa., who is planning to visit the island with his family in July. He and his wife have passports but their three adult children don't.
Meanwhile, Caribbean tourist spots that won't be affected are hoping to reap a windfall in new U.S. visitors.
''You don't need a passport to come here,'' said Alain Tiphaine, head of the hotel and tourism association in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.?
New Rules May Cost Islands $2.6B
Caribbean resorts warn that the Bush administration's move to require passports for Americans returning from an island getaway will cost them billions.
BY DOUGLAS HANKS III
June 4, 2005
New rules requiring American travelers returning from the islands to carry passports will cost the Caribbean about $2.6 billion a year in lost tourist spending, according to a trade group's new study.
The grim prediction comes six months before the new rules -- part of a broader tightening of the nation's borders -- take effect.
The proposed passport-only rules would expand to Mexico and Canada by Jan. 1, 2008. Under current rules, U.S. citizens leaving the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada can use driver licenses and birth certificates to come back into the country.
The passport requirement will put an end to spontaneous jaunts to the Caribbean for many Americans who don't hold passports, and ruin the vacations of others unaware of the new rule, according to the Caribbean Hotel Association. The group's study claims the region will lose about 190,000 jobs from the new passport rules, as well as the $2.6 billion in tourist dollars.
Government officials must ''recognize the economic impact their decisions are likely to make on economies far and wide,'' said Jeane-Claude Baumgarten, president of the World Travel & Tourism Council, which conducted the study for the hotel group.
Both organizations urged the U.S. to delay the Caribbean rule change until 2008 to give travelers more time to hear about the restrictions and get passports.
It's a common refrain among the travel industry's Washington lobbyists, who claim the Bush administration has been too hasty to implement border controls in the name of fighting terrorism.
Administration officials say they are trying to be as accommodating as possible while still shoring up homeland security.
''We're trying to strike a balance,'' said State Department spokesman Steve Pike.
But trade groups representing American hotels, tourist bureaus, travel agents and others are urging the Homeland Security Department to postpone an Oct. 26 deadline requiring visitors from many European nations to have either a visa or a new electronic passport.
They argue the new rules aimed at foreign visitors will hurt American hotels and resorts -- particularly in South Florida, a favorite destination for Europeans and Latin Americans.
Forcing Americans to bring a passport to the Caribbean could have an opposite effect: The CHA study warns many would-be Caribbean travelers will opt for tropical places under U.S. jurisdiction, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida.
According to the Caribbean study, about half of all Americans visiting the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and other smaller Caribbean favorites don't bring their passports.
The Bahamas fares better, with only 25 percent of Americans traveling without a passport. But in Jamaica, 80 percent arrive without their passports, the study said.
Passports can be obtained fairly quickly -- the U.S. government will rush one out in two weeks for a $60 fee, and Internet companies promise them even quicker than that.
But last-minute deals on air fare, short flights and the generally care-free vibe of the islands encourage spur-of-the-moment getaways, Caribbean advocates argue. And there's particular concern for spring breakers, an important contingency for party spots like the Bahamas and Jamaica.
''We'll have a student call who all of a sudden realized he could get off work, or his girlfriend got back together with him,'' said Dean Goodwin, director of sales for Student Travel Services, which sells spring-break trips. 'And it's, `Dude, what have you got for this weekend?' ''