The rules require all US citizens returning home to have a valid US passport. Trinidad and Tobago will not face any fall-out as entry into the country requires all visitors, including Americans, to have a passport.
But faced with the prospect of reduced numbers of Americans which could impact their revenues, a number of Caribbean countries are wooing potential visitors with discounts on rooms, credits on food and drinks, tours, massages and even free coffee.
Americans comprise some 51 percent of the total visitor market share and represent the largest market segment to the Caribbean.
A Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) funded study last year on the economic impact of the new US passport regulation showed that on average, total visitor exports earnings in the Caribbean total US$20.7 billion.
The study, conducted by the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) concluded that as much as US$2.6 billion of visitor export earnings and more than 188,000 travel and tourism jobs could be at risk as a result of the passport requirement.
The study indicated that around seven million Americans travel to the Caribbean without a passport.
Some 12 Caribbean destinations which do not require valid passports from American visitors will be affected by the decision.
Jamaica, where over 80 percent of American visitors do not use passports for entry to the island, will be the hardest hit. Some 30 percent of Americans arriving in Antigua and Barbuda do not use passports, Aruba — 27 percent, Bahamas — 25 percent and Curacao — 15 percent, according to the study.
Jamaica, whose economy is highly dependent on the tourism sector, is pursuing a number of initiatives including “Jamaican Morning Coffee Breaks” to prevent a fall-out in arrivals and revenues.
“We propose to set up a number of coffee stations in major commuter terminals in the US where we will hand out coffee in Jamaican-branded cups and have onsite passport sign-up desks in collaboration with the U.S postal service,” Tourism Minister Aloun Assamba said last month.
Some of its well-known entertainers, business officials and politicians are also being used as spokespersons to promote the new passport regime for Americans travelling to Jamaica.
Jamaica, which is also a popular wedding destination plans to reimburse couples for the cost of getting their passports.
Hotels in Jamaica, Aruba, St Lucia, The Bahamas and Anguilla are offering free spas and massages, tours, food and beverage credit and car rental vouchers to Americans getting their first passport.
Tour operator, CheapCaribbean.com is reimbursing the cost to acquire a passport for each member of a travelling party. The 32-member Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) has also partnered with private companies that offer US passport services to help travellers obtain their passports in minimum time.
According to Latin Finance, the same concern that has prompted US travellers to choose the Caribbean over further-flung destinations — terrorism — could be detrimental to the region’s tourism growth.
“While the Caribbean is seen as a safe and secure close-to-home destination, new passport requirements could keep a large number of Americans from leaving their country at all,” a recent article said.
US citizens will be required to flash a passport when returning home from all trips abroad; currently, they can travel to much of the Caribbean, as well as Canada and Mexico, with nothing more than a driver’s licence and a birth certificate or social security card.
“A lot of Caribbean countries don’t currently require US visitors to have a passport,” notes Richard Miller, executive vice-president of the World Trade and Tourism Council. “With that policy change, the market will be in jeopardy, and therefore spending.”
“In Jamaica, the rule would threaten about 58% of tourism income; in the Cayman Islands, it would be 40%, in the British Virgin Islands, 32%; and in the Bahamas, 22%,” said Latin Finance.
Meanwhile, some regional governments have proposed reimbursing American travellers for the cost of obtaining a passport so as not to lose them to destinations like Florida. “The governments (of the Caribbean) are quite concerned about this and are already mounting a major campaign in the United States to educate the market,” says Alex Titcombe, Barbados-based director of projects for the Caribbean Hotel Association.
CTO’s Secretary General, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, said while the Caribbean applauds the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the US government’s efforts to increase security at the borders, he believes that the different sets of rules for sea, air or land travel may leave travellers confused and could discourage commerce and tourism.
Travellers arriving by land and sea will eventually need to possess a passport but this does not take effect until June 2009.
Vanderpool-Wallace also described as a “category six hurricane” a decision by the US government to amend the WHTI to delay the implementation of the new passport requirements until June 1, 2009 for land crossings at the Mexican and Canadian borders and for cruise passengers coming to the US from the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada or Bermuda but still requires all US citizens travelling by air to these regions to have a passport by January 8, 2007.
“Needless to say, the affected Caribbean nations are extremely disappointed with this outcome because the potential economic impact on their business could be catastrophic,” he said.
“ It is incomprehensible that the United States government would approve an amendment that excludes air arrivals from the Caribbean and thereby grant an additional advantage to cruise lines in the Caribbean who already enjoy a significant competitive advantage especially in light of the fact that the cruise lines supported the inclusion of air arrivals,” said the CTO secretary general.
He said, “Because of the potential far ranging effect of this action, there is nothing potentially more devastating. This is a category six hurricane.”