US withdraws passport deadline

Minister Charles Clifford has commended the United States Government for withdrawing a proposed 1 January, 2006 deadline for new travel regulations.

It was feared the 1 January date would have had an adverse effect on Cayman tourism.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative had required US citizens visiting the Caribbean to be in possession of a valid US passport to re-enter the US, effective 1 January, 2006. Right now only birth certificates or driver’s licenses are needed.

The Caribbean Hotel Association had urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security not to implement the rules until January 2008 so as to give travelers a chance to adapt to the change of regulation.

Minister Clifford confirmed that the US Department of State had written to him to indicate that it was reviewing the situation and that it felt the Cayman Islands and the rest of the regions in the Caribbean would be happy with the outcome of this review.

‘This is the result I expected and I certainly commend the US government for recognizing the implications this has for the region.

‘We will continue to work with the US on anti-terrorism and I expect that they will work with us to give us ample time to prepare for the new regulation so that it will not negatively affect Caribbean tourism. I’m very pleased with the outcome,’ he said.

Although the US government still plans to implement the rules for all countries by January 2008, no new dates have been set for specific nations or regions, said an Associated Press article.

Concern that Cayman could lose 30 per cent of its annual US visitor air arrivals as a result of the new travel requirements prompted Minister Clifford to write to US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice earlier this summer.

The letter pointed out that the proposed date of the implementation would not allow many US visitors time to comply with the new requirement and that there was a feared loss of around $80 million in revenue

‘As a result we estimate that the Cayman Islands stands to lose 30 per cent of our annual US visitor air arrivals who currently travel without a passport,’ said the letter.

‘If that percentage of visitors chooses another destination for which a US passport is not required in 2006, it would represent a loss of some US$80 million in revenues for the Cayman Islands.

‘This figure does not include the impact from cruise excursionists, of which we have some two million per annum, mainly from the USA,’ the letter added.

The letter requested that at the very least that the deadline required for compliance for US visitors to the Caribbean and Bermuda be brought in line with the time allowed for those to Mexico and Canada.

The CHA had also felt that Mexico and Canada were in a better position as the same regulation does not come into effect until 1 January, 2008.

CHA President Berthia Parle said at a recent tourism conference, ‘CHA can appreciate US concern for its security, but cannot lose sight of the impact of the new regulations on Caribbean travel and tourism, which will be a permanent realignment of traffic, with spontaneous, last minute travel significantly reduced.

The CHA, which had urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security not to implement the rules until January 2008, applauded the decision to review the date.

‘We’re thrilled,’ said Lorraine Ortiz, a spokeswoman for the association. ‘It will enable us to prepare for the change.’

Some US$2.5 billion in revenue from Americans who travel to the Caribbean without passports is at stake, according to a recent study by the London-based World Tourism and Travel Council. Some 20 percent or 57 million Americans have passports. U.S. visitors at present can enter 27 Caribbean countries without passports.

Homeland Security officials have said the new rules were not final and the United States would consider complaints. U.S. President George W. Bush has said he was surprised by the proposal and has ordered a review.