Minister bears good cruise news

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford is confident the United States will push back its new passport regulation date to 2008, enough time for visitors to Cayman and other Caribbean countries to prepare for the change.

Mr. Clifford passed on this information following on from a meeting he had with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association last week in Miami.

The new United States passport regulation, called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, will require US citizens visiting the Caribbean to be in possession of a valid US passport to re-enter the US, effective January 1, 2006.

However, both the Caribbean Hotel Association and the International Council of Cruise Lines (which will lobby the issue on behalf of the FCCA) are advocating an extension of time for the Caribbean to the same introductory date as Mexico and Canada, January 1, 2008, to allow the region’s tourism to prepare better.

A study done on behalf of the CHA reports that US$2.6 billion visitor export earnings and 188,000 tourism jobs could be at risk in the Caribbean because of the new regulation. Currently 22 per cent of US visitors that stay-over in the Cayman Islands travel without passports.

The FCCA reported to Minister Clifford that the lobbying is being done at the White House level and the US has acknowledged it did not know the new regulation would have such a dramatic affect on the Caribbean region.

The Minister admitted that the FCCA is clearly concerned for the cruise industry, as a significant number of its passengers travel on birth certificates and drivers’ licences.

The Minister met with the FCCA last week at Carnival headquarters where they confirmed that the ICCL will handle the lobbying on the passport issue.

The FCCA also told Minister Clifford that it is seeking an extension of the finger pier at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal, of about 100 to 150 feet. This could allow piers to be created off that eventually, for the berthing of cruise ships.

The following Caribbean destinations require passports from US travellers: Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Eustatius, Trinidad & Tobago.

The ICCL’s website states that the cruise organisation has serious concerns with the new passport regulation’s timelines as it does not allow sufficient time for travellers to comply with the requirements, and treats the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central and South America unfairly.

‘The Caribbean is the most heavily visited cruise destination in the world, accounting for approximately 45 per cent of all cruise ship visits. In many instances, cruise passengers travelling to the Caribbean have already booked their cruises for 2006. Currently, the State Department estimates that only 20 per cent or less of all Americans have passports.’

The ICCL goes on to state that the cruise industry supports the new passport regulation, but is asking that sufficient time be allotted to allow for the public to understand the new rules, and for the industry to be able to communicate the new requirements to their customers, and most importantly, for the public to obtain their passports.

‘There is no basis for treating travellers to the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Central and South Americans any differently from others. Implementation of all phases of the WHTI should be delayed until January 2008. Delaying the implementation date will give much needed time to the federal government, the travel industry, and most importantly, the travelling public, to adapt to the new passport program,’ it says.

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