Travel Weekly's Caribbean E-letter: April 28, 2005

CARIBBEAN TOURISM officials scrambled last week to respond to the U.S. governments proposal to require U.S. travelers to have valid passports to re-enter the country. Officials are concerned that the timing of the new requirement, which takes effect Dec. 31 for the Caribbean, Bermuda and Panama, could deter travel. (The passport requirement for travel by air or sea from Mexico and Canada takes effect Dec. 31, 2006; land crossings from Canada and Mexico will require passports by the end of 2007.) In the Caribbean, currently only eight of 35 countries require U.S. passports for entry. Around the region, timing seemed to be the big concern. Jorge Pesquera, CEO of the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, said, We are very concerned that the Caribbean is not getting much time to communicate with its customer base. Pesquera said one-third of Arubas U.S. visitors do not carry a passport and that many U.S. citizens who do not have passports will not be able to travel on short notice. Paul Pennicook, Jamaicas director of tourism, and Alec Sanguinetti, director general of the Caribbean Hotel Association, expressed similar concerns.

SUPERCLUBS JUMPED on the passport initiative quickly by launching one of its own. Its Passport Included package will defray the additional cost of passport fees by crediting the cost of applying for and renewing passports toward all SuperClubs vacations next year at its 10 Grand Lido, Breezes and Hedonism resorts on four Caribbean islands. The vacations must be booked by July 31 and also cover cruise passengers who book pre- and post-trips with SuperClubs. Passports currently cost $97 for adults, $82 for children under 16 years and $67 for renewals. SuperClubs estimated that a family of four could spend close to $400 for their passports alone.

THE MERIDIEN HOTEL CHAIN , whose 233-room Le Meridien St. Martin formerly Le Meridien LHabitacion is the second largest property on St. Martin, will withdraw its management contract, effective May 1, according to hotel sources. General manager Jacques Guillamot is reportedly leaving the island as well. The property is expected to remain open under the name LHabitacion; its present owners are due to arrive on St. Martin this week. No new management company has yet been named. Last year Meridien severed its ties with the 144-room Le Meridien le Domaine. That hotel, which closed for reconstruction following the announcement, is expected to reopen in December.

SOL MELIA launched Weddings by Sol Melia, its destination weddings program available at the hotel chains 12 Melia and Paradisus resorts in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. The program, which has its own web site at www.weddingsbysolmelia.com and a toll-free number at (877) 734-4608, offers a free wedding package, based on a specified number of nights booked, or customized services, tailored to a couples specific needs. Packages range from $899 to $2,899 per couple, depending upon the resort and package selected. Named overall wedding coordinator is Sol Melias Miami-based Carolina Friser-Frederiksen; each resort also has its own on-site wedding director.

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