US passport education is key

The Cayman Islands has not gone the way of some other Caribbean islands and offered reimbursement for US visitors getting passports because there is no guarantee those visitors will then come here.

Director of Tourism Pilar Bush said this as part of her answer to a question on the new passport regulations coming into effect for United States’ citizens. She was speaking at a Romance Travel seminar at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Tuesday evening.

Tourism partners were encouraged, however, to keep educating US guests on the need for a passport.

From the first week of January 2007, US citizens need a passport to re-enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. This is known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Eighty per cent of stay-over visitors to Cayman are from the US and 82 per cent of them carry passports, said Ms Bush.

However, she noted, ‘The potential pool of visitors who we would want to attract is still very large, and too many people without a passport for the Cayman Islands to ignore’.

Therefore, the Department of Tourism’s US team on the ground and a lot of advertising to the trade encourages US visitors to get a passport if they don’t have one. ‘We include it in all of our shows and all of our sales calls,’ said Ms Bush.

However, she added that Cayman has not gone so far as some of the other Caribbean islands, which give an incentive to people to get a passport, such as offering a full rebate on the cost of getting the passport.

She explained it is difficult to come up with an effective way to demonstrate that if the Cayman Islands pays for the passport of certain potential visitors, that they will come here.

‘It could get tacky very quickly to say ‘I need to see your proof that you have purchased a Cayman Islands vacation’. So, we haven’t gone down that path yet,’ she said.

One of the Department of Tourism’s challenges, Ms Bush said at the recent tourism conference, is that it has to be accountable for public funds. ‘We’d have to work out the mechanics of it. We have to figure out how to track it (a reimbursement) to someone committed to a trip to the Cayman Islands and how we’d fund that,’ she said.

‘But, it is the right thing to encourage people to get a passport. That is what we are certainly trying to do,’ she urged attendees Tuesday evening.

‘We just have not gone as far as some of the resort chains and destinations who probably have a much, much lower rate of passport ownership to start with and they would be much more negatively impacted than we would.’

Caribbean countries want a further extension to the WHTI, which was pushed back by a year after tourism officials convinced the United States to hold back the implementation date of January 2006.

Just recently Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford went to Washington to seek a further deferral of the WHTI from January 2007.

Other bodies have also been lobbying on behalf of the region: the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the Caribbean Hotel Association, the International Council of Cruise Lines and other bodies.

The expectation is that that after the mid-term elections in the next six weeks or so there will be an answer.

Mr. Clifford said recently that while a definitive response was not given by US authorities, the initial indications suggest favourable consideration of the request.

Manager Public Relations Services DoT, Kathy Jackson encouraged tourism partners to put advice about getting a passport on their websites, similar to the way passport advice is posted on DoT’s website.

At the recent tourism conference Minister Clifford also urged travel partners to continue to educate past, current and potential guests on their need for a passport so that no one loses any business because a potential US visitor didn’t know they required a passport.

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