SAN JUAN -- The Caribbean Hotel Association is mounting a unified campaign to educate U.S. travelers about the requirement for a valid passport to re-enter the U.S. from the Caribbean, effective Jan. 1, 2007, the same date that the requirement takes effect for travelers returning from Canada and Mexico.

The requirement, part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative unveiled last year by the Dept. of Homeland Security, initially called for the measure to take effect this month for travelers returning from the Caribbean, a full year ahead of Canada and Mexico.

CHA was the only Caribbean organization to submit documents to the Department of Homeland Security that quantified the disastrous effect that the earlier date would have had on the Caribbean in terms of loss of jobs and loss of business, said Berthia Parle, CHA president, during a session at the 26th annual Caribbean Marketplace (formerly called CHA Marketplace).

We agreed in principle with the initiative, she added. We asked only that the playing field be leveled and that the measure go into effect on the same date for travelers returning from the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico.

Parle said the CHA received acknowledgements from six members of Congress sympathetic to our cause, and we did learn that only 25% of the Congressional members themselves have passports.

The CHA will work with the Caribbean Tourism Organization in a campaign to publicize the passport requirement through the distribution of flyers, advertising and the help of its public- and private-sector travel partners.

If the requirement had taken effect in the Caribbean this month, as initially announced, the Caribbean would have been at a great disadvantage. Our research showed that more than $1.8 billion would have been lost in revenue and more than 118,000 jobs lost in the tourism sector, Parle said.

With the cost of passports for a family of four totalling close to $400, Parle said it is critical that the public be informed well in advance so that travelers can factor this cost into a vacation budget.

We know that some hotels have indicated that they will offer incentives to build part of this cost into the vacation booking, she said.

SuperClubs, for instance, introduced a program for a brief time last year that refunded passport application fees.  John Issa, SuperClubs chairman, said his firm would re-introduce the same program later this year.

A buoyant Marketplace

Buyers and suppliers at the Caribbean Marketplace appeared buoyed by strong bookings for the current season, increased airlift into the region, numerous hotel projects in the works and a new spirit of cooperation between the CHA and the CTO.

Parle described 2005 as a year of challenges. Hurricane Wilmas destruction in the Mexican Caribbean and close calls for other Caribbean destinations, coupled with high fuel prices slowed growth considerably, she said.

Although final figures are not yet out, the CHAs 2005 visitor figures to the region will reflect a 5% growth rate over 2004, and a similar increase is forecast for 2006.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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