Passport deadline set

The 23 January coming has just been released as the date after which air travellers re-entering the United States from the Caribbean will be required to show passports, even U.S. citizens.

The implementation deadline requiring US citizens travelling to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada and Mexico by air to have a passport was, up to now, 8 January 2007. The date was pushed back to 23 January this week.

The news concerning air travellers in what is known as the Westin Hemisphere Travel Initiative comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that cruise passengers (all travellers entering the US by land and sea) are not required to show passports or an alternative security identification card when entering the US, until as late as 1 June 2009.

Director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Ken Thompson said they are still disappointed that the rules for air travellers remain different to that of cruise travel, but he noted that those in the private sector in Cayman are doing their part to advise guests and potential guests on the need for passports, along with what the Department of Tourism is doing.

DoT is working with its industry partners to advise potential US visitors through points of sale such as travel agents and websites, that a passport will be required for future travel to the region.

The CITA will continue to support any lobbying efforts, he said.

Although Minister for Tourism in the Cayman Islands Charles Clifford welcomed the delay on the passport rule for the cruise industry last month, he called it only a partial victory because it excluded air travel.

According to statistics from the Department of Tourism and Immigration, the vast majority of the Cayman Islands’ US air arrivals, at least some 75 per cent to 80 per cent possess passports.

However, the Cayman Islands firmly believes that everything that can be done must be done to achieve a level playing field for all forms of tourism travel within the western hemisphere.

Mr. Clifford said that approximately 20 per cent to 25 per cent of affected air arrivals is a significant portion.

‘The US is a key market for these islands. We are clearly interested in ensuring that all legitimate travellers who wish to visit from the US enjoy the unfettered ability to do so.’

Minister Clifford could not be reached by press time yesterday, last month he pledged that he would continue to lobby on the issue.

‘Security provisions, which are not uniformly applied, may only serve to deter legitimate travellers and create further challenges for air-based travel. I will continue to lobby as I have in the past year, to achieve a truly level playing field for travel within the region.’

Last month Mr. Clifford said he remained optimistic that the US Government would give further consideration to adopting a uniform approach to the implementation of the WHTI, which would be inclusive of air travel.

He worked with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation in lobbying on this issue, and the original January 2006 implementation date was put back by one year to January 2007. In July Mr. Clifford and Permanent Secretary with the Ministry of Tourism Gloria McField-Nixon visited Capitol Hill where they further lobbied with the International Council of Cruise Lines.

The Sept. 11 Commission recommended strengthening security of travel documents. It said in its report, ‘For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.’

A 2004 law passed by Congress mandated the change to require passports as the only acceptable travel document, with few exceptions, but the exact date had been in question.

The United States Congress’ decision to not include air travel in its recent decision to postpone passport requirements for cruise passengers returning to that country has been likened to a Category 6 hurricane by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of the CTO, of which the Cayman Islands is a member, said the decision could have crippling effects on the tourism industry in the region.

Caribbean Hotel Association President Peter Odle said, ‘We fully concur with our public sector partner CTO in their statement equating this piece of legislation with a Category 6 hurricane for the Caribbean hotel and tourism industry.’ He cautioned that the Caribbean countries affected stand to face a genuine economic and social upheaval caused by the inevitable shift in travel by US citizens

A statement from CHA said it has maintained that any postponement of the WHTI implementation should apply equally to all countries involved and equally to travel by land, air and sea and that no country or industry should be disadvantaged arbitrarily to the economic advantage of any other sector.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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