The vexation caused by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which starting Jan. 23 will require U.S. air travelers to have a passport when entering or re-entering the U.S., is far from over.

For Richard Doumeng, managing director of the 65-room, family-owned Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas, the latest vexation concerns an asterisk, or rather, the lack of one.

Doumeng is a past president of the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association and a member of the Caribbean Hotel Association. He wants the CHA and other organizations to continue to remind U.S. travelers that the passport requirement doesn't apply to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In Doumeng's view, an asterisk on CHA press releases would be a good idea.

"There is a fact buried in the WHTI that has been almost completely ignored in the reportage throughout the world. Because of our political status, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are exempt from this new law," he said.

Doumeng denounced the WHTI as a "callous, coldhearted and destructive piece of legislation that already has negatively impacted the entire region, including the U.S.V.I." 

The fact that U.S. citizens without passports will be permitted to come to the U.S.V.I. and return home after Jan. 8, appears nowhere on the U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism's Web site. "We have missed a great opportunity there," Doumeng said.

It does, however, appear on releases distributed by the U.S.V.I. Hotel & Tourism Association.

The home page of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.'s Web site carries an image of a passport stamp with the message "No Passport Required."

Cruise and land travelers entering or re-entering the U.S. were granted a reprieve until June 2009 until the passport requirement is implemented.

"We did not create this law. We did not endorse this initiative. We don't believe the cruise industry needed any more unfair advantages," Doumeng said.

In a letter to the CHA requesting the asterisk, Doumeng said, "We understand the sensitivity on this issue and want to quell any potential bitterness and resentment. We ask for your understanding of our unique situation."

Doumeng said he had lost some FIT business as a result of "the absolute confusion surrounding the passport regulation."

"Our advance bookings are behind what they usually are at this time of year, although we've gained a bit in group business, especially weddings," Doumeng said. "A bride wants to make it as easy as possible for her sorority sisters to attend her wedding."

Marriott's Frenchman's Reef has picked up some incentive groups as well, said Doumeng.

In Puerto Rico, tourism officials project that the hotel occupancy rate for the high season will be 81%, as it was a year ago.

CHA President Peter Odle earlier this fall said the economic impact of the passport law had the potential to be "disastrous" for affected Caribbean nations.

In an address at last month's annual conference of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Pamela Richards, former chairman, cited a study done by the World Travel and Tourism Council that projected a loss of close to 188,000 tourism-related jobs throughout the region as a result of the measure's impact on visitor spending.

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


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