Caribbean tourism industry faces hard times with new US passport rules

New U.S. passport rules coming into effect next week are expected to have some negative consequences for most Caribbean islands that depend heavily on American tourism.

Beginning 23 January 2007, all passengers travelling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to provide a passport or other valid travelling document such as an Air NEXUS card. Previously, travelling to and from the United States to places such as the Bahamas and Mexico only required a drivers license or a similar valid ID.

As early as 01 January 2008, the same rules will go into effect for land and sea as well.

This could have profound affects for the tourism industry in the Caribbean as an estimated 79 percent of Americans do not own a passport. First time passport applications can take up to six weeks to process and cost $97 for adults; $87 for children - putting a damper on "last-minute" getaways that many people take to such places as Bermuda.

The staggered time frame for the new rules regarding land and sea do not help. While the rules for land and sea do not go into effect for another year, cruise ships only stay in port for a few hours - so tourists spend less money.

The new rules may bring a boon to other Caribbean destinations. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as U.S. territories, are not subject to the new rules and have started an aggressive advertising campaign, labelling themselves "America's Caribbean".

Meanwhile, other Caribbean governments have been lobbying the U.S. for an extension to the deadline, encouraging Americans to get passports through advertising, and offering incentives such as passport fee re-imbursements for travellers.

Americans make up more than half of the tourists in the region. In the Bahamas, Americans comprise 87 percent of tourists that visit and in Jamaica, 73 percent. Both destinations are expected to be the most severely affected.

Places in the Bahamas are already getting hit with cancellations from Americans who found out about the new rules too late. Caribbean tourism officials hope the damage will only be for the short term as people adjust.


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