A Level field for Caribbean

Kenneth Shapiro Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress finally took the advice of travel industry experts and extended the deadline for implementation of new passport regulations, saving travelers and suppliers from mass confusion & well, almost. While suppliers and travel agents were relieved to

By: Kenneth Shapiro

Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress finally took the advice of travel industry experts and extended the deadline for implementation of new passport regulations, saving travelers and suppliers from mass confusion & well, almost.

While suppliers and travel agents were relieved to find out there will be an extension until June 2009 for U.S. citizens traveling by land from Canada and Mexico, or by cruise ship in the Caribbean, the government decided not to extend the deadline for travelers by air to those places. What this means is that come Jan. 8, your clients traveling to resorts throughout the Caribbean had better have a passport.

This development has led to frustration on the part of Caribbean travel industry representatives. One official has compared the congressional action to a “category six hurricane.” The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) released a statement claiming that the move means “the United States Congress has effectively laid off 188,300 Caribbean workers.” The release cited a study that found that 80 percent of U.S. visitors to Jamaica do not use a passport, while the numbers to other islands were not much better. Only 27 percent of all Americans have a valid passport.

“These forecasts are extremely alarming, and it is discriminative that airlines do not share a similar level of support to that given to cruise and land-based tourism,” said WTTC president Jean-Claude Baumgarten.

Ever since discussion of the passport regulations began, Caribbean tourism officials have been worried about an even playing field, and as it turns out, their concerns were not unfounded. Nobody faults the cruise industry for getting its exemption, but even as Congress reached out with one hand, they took away with the other. It makes no sense to have different standards in play when simply extending the deadline would give the entire industry as well as the American public time to adjust to the new standards all at once.

One encouraging sign has emerged as we go to press. Reports from a TravelAge West correspondent at the Caribbean Tourism Organization conference on Grand Bahama indicate that the Caribbean Hotel Association has now been joined by the airlines as well as the cruise industry to lobby Congress and the Department of Homeland Security with a unified front (page 6).

Maybe, with a little help from their friends, the Caribbean resorts will get their even playing field after all. K.S.

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