Passport Requirements Will Cost, Resorts Say
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For those of you getting ready for a winter Caribbean vacation, let's go over your checklist. Swimsuit, suntan lotion, snorkeling gear, and don't forget a U.S. passport. That's right. Beginning on January 23rd, all U.S. residents are required to carry a passport when flying to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean destinations.
NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: The change in U.S. passport regulations also affects those who travel by air between Canada and Mexico. But in the Caribbean - where tourism is a bedrock of local economies and nearly three-quarters of the visitors come from the U.S. - this small policy ripple is creating big waves. A study released last year by an international tourism group estimated that the U.S. passport requirement would cost the islands $2.6 billion annually and result of a loss of more than 188,000 jobs. But with the deadline now just days away, tourism officials are downplaying those doomsday projections.
The head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, says for months, government agencies, resorts, airlines and travel agents have worked to get the word out. And as of now, in many places, reservations are up. So does that mean there's nothing to worry about?
Mr. VINCENT VANDERPOOL-WALLACE (Head, Caribbean Tourism Organization): The fact is nobody knows because something on the order of 70 percent of U.S. citizens still do not have one. So we don't know what proportion of those people are our prospective clients that are going to be affected by it.
ALLEN: One reason for optimism is that this new regulation has been years in the making. For months, resorts and government agencies in the Caribbean have been telling U.S. tourists that the next time they'll visit they'll need passports. That's fine for elite destinations, like Antigua and St. Barts, but what about islands that cater to honeymooners, families, and other first-timers?
(Soundbite of travel commercial)
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Unidentified Man: Escape from everyday life. The islands of the Bahamas.
ALLEN: Fred Lounsberry is with the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board.
Mr. FRED LOUNSBERRY (Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board): We're a typical, kind of, first international trip for a lot of folks - particularly on the East Coast.
ALLEN: In the Bahamas, 19 hotels are offering to rebate the cost of new passports for customers. That's $358 for a family of four. Fred Lounsberry says one aspect of the new regulations resorts are particularly concerned about, is the requirement that all children - no matter how young - must have their own passport.
Mr. LOUNSBERRY: We are a huge family market, particularly during spring break and summer months we're full of families. So just want to make sure that the word gets out that kids need a passport. So get them.
ALLEN: Along with the Bahamas, Jamaica is another destination that attracts a lot of first-timers and others without passports. Some hotels there are issuing credits good for room upgrades, spa treatments, and greens fees - aimed at helping offset the cost.
Jamaica's ambassador to the U.S. Gordon Shirley(ph) says the new regulations comes at a bad time, just when Jamaica and eight other Caribbean nations are getting in March to host the World Cup of Cricket.
Ambassador GORDON SHIRLEY (Jamaica Ambassador to the U.S.): It is an opportunity for us to introduce something that is new, therefore, this new regulation again creates a little bit of a barrier, somewhat of a barrier to those first time people who would like to come and see cricket.
ALLEN: There's another important aspect of the new passport requirement. It applies only to those who travel by air, not by land or water. That's a sore point with hoteliers and resort operators in the Caribbean who say it gives an unfair advantage to the cruise ship industry.
The passport requirement is expected to be extended to include all travel - land, sea, and air - early next year.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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