Caribbean travel interests are heading into
the winter season with a lot less anxiety than they felt a year
ago, when confusion over the U.S. government's Western Hemisphere
Travel Initiative loomed like a rain cloud, threatening to put a
damper on the whole season.
director of the Caribbean Tourism Development Co., a joint venture
between the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel
Association, said "the negative effects of the passport issue have
travelers have made their decisions about how they would handle the
cost, inconvenience and delay factors involved," Riley said. "The
number of Americans possessing passports has continued to increase
at a steady pace, and the Caribbean continues to be a great value
in the current environment."
Part of the reason
for the improved outlook is that Caribbean interests had several
educational and promotional initiatives in place, including rebates
designed to offset the cost of acquiring a passport.
For the most part,
Under the WHTI,
U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from foreign points in the
Western Hemisphere must present a valid passport to leave and
re-enter the country. The rule went into effect for air travel in
January and is expected to be extended to cruise passengers and
land travelers in mid-2008.
It seemed simple
enough, but program delays and frequent changes to the
deadlines, coupled with a mounting backlog
of passport applications, led to public confusion and angst about
hotels responded with promotions that offered rebates, discounts or
coupons for local merchants designed to offset the traveler's cost
of acquiring a passport. Some offers saved $400 for a family of
four. Some hotels promised food and beverage credits, free spa
treatments and free rounds of golf.
Island Promotion Board was the first to launch a destination-wide
promotion, and it helped spur an increase in arrivals, according to
Kim Andersen, vice president of marketing.
which was a mix of educational information and rebates, launched
last December with a rebate offer and an educational microsite
where travelers could find step-by-step instructions on entry
requirements, even the location of the nearest U.S. passport
"To date, we've
rebated close to 10,000 passports and have definitely met our goals
on educating travelers on the new regulations," Andersen
Last spring, when
the backlog on passports was nearing the 12-week mark, the NPIPB
extended and expanded its program by offering to cover the cost for
expediting passports as well as for reimbursing the fees for new
and renewed passports.
More than 19
properties participated in the rebate program; many other hotels in
the Bahamas offered their own incentives.
St. Maarten offered
$100 in coupons for use at restaurants and other local
"The promotion did
help us through the passport scare, but it was not overwhelmingly
successful in terms of generating new business," said Robert
Dubourcq, executive product manager for the St. Maarten Hospitality
& Trade Association.
"We don't plan on
continuing the program in 2008," he said.
In Aruba, U.S.
arrivals increased by more than 6% in January and February and by
more than 10% in March. Myrna Jansen, managing director of the
Aruba Tourism Authority, attributed the gains to incentive programs
and awareness campaigns.
were extremely effective in getting visitors to Aruba who may not
have had or used their passports during previous visits," Jansen
Passport Included program reimbursed passport fees up to $97 per
person for any booking of at least four
The program was
promoted in national newspapers, online, on TV and on radio,
according to Zein Nakash, vice president of marketing and
"More than 4,400
travelers booked vacations with SuperClubs as a direct result of
the Passport Included promotion -- and the overwhelming majority of
travelers required a new passport," Nakash said.
Included promotion is valid for travel through 2008 for bookings
made by Dec. 31 of this year.
At Sandals and
Beaches Resorts, a Passport to Paradise promotion began a year ago
and was updated last May with an increase in its resort credit from
$60 per passport to $125 per passport. The company issued resort
credits for more than 2,000 bookings in 2007, according to CEO Adam
"The passport law
put undue burden on hoteliers, but this has significantly improved
as time has passed and the process for Americans to obtain
passports has become more efficient," Stewart said.
contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].