Passport Rule May Hurt Caribbean Tourism
By STEVENSON JACOBS Associated Press Writer
KINGSTON, Jamaica Apr 27, 2005 - 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.
Won't stop me from going to Aruba! 8)