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Caribbean Tourism Conference Convenes in The Bahamas

October 30, 2006 By: Mark Rogers, Joe Pike

GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND—Travel Agent was on site for the 29th Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC-29) October 22–25 at the Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort in The Bahamas to gather news about the region.  The newly elected chairman (center) and vice chairs of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (left to right): the Hon. Harold Lovell, Antigua & Barbuda; the Hon. Brenda Hood, Grenada;  
the Hon. Philip J. Pierre, St. Lucia; the Hon. Aloun N'Dombet Assamba, Jamaica; the Hon. Richard Skerritt, St. Kitts & Nevis

The theme of this year's conference was "Cooperation, Innovation, Rejuvenation: Creating a Brand New Caribbean." It attracted 748 delegates, including 120 travel agents.

Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) officials were elected during the conference. Philip J. Pierre, St. Lucia's minister of tourism, was elected chairman at the 46th meeting of the CTO Board of Directors.

Kerry J. Cannon, Jr., group publisher of Travel Agent, was elected to the CTO Board of Directors. "We have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with CTO," Cannon says. "Travel agents play such a major role in the selling of Caribbean travel product and I felt that my being on the board of CTO would ensure that the travel agent's voice was represented. On a selfish note, I love the Caribbean and was so pleased to have been chosen to the board." F.Y.I.

Passport Initiative Takes Center Stage

Secretary General of the CTO Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace spoke on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, commonly referred to as the passport issue.

A number of air carriers, including American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, have reversed their stance on the passport initiative. They are now supporting Caribbean efforts to get an extension, says Vanderpool-Wallace, noting there are four other major air carriers who plan to publicly support the CTO's position.

Vanderpool-Wallace is calling for a level playing field, since cruise and land visitors do not need a passport until June 2009, while visitors by air need to show a passport upon their return to the U.S. starting January 8, 2007.

Following Tuesday night's press conference, Vanderpool-Wallace told Travel Agent, "There is no question that the decision (to give the cruise industry an extension) absolutely created a better situation for our attempts to get air travelers an extension." He proclaims the CTO can handle the matter administratively: "We don't have to wait until congress reconvenes in order to get this extension."

Although at first reluctant to speak about the passport issue, Richard "Ricky" Skerritt, St. Kitts' tourism minister of state, told Travel Agent last week, "The Caribbean knew that there was a risk, we were aware that it was inevitable, we may have been led into a false sense of complacency."

Edison Briesen, Aruba's minister of tourism and transportation, explained that only 23 percent of U.S. citizens visiting Aruba lack passports, thus the island is not expected to be impacted by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative as severely as some islands. Even so, the island has introduced an incentive for visitors from the U.S. who make Aruba the first stamp in their passport. A variety of hotels are offering food and beverage credits as well as car rental vouchers to help take the sting out of the added expense of passport fees.

Kelli Clarke, honeymoon specialist for Alexandria, VA-based K C Travel Unlimited, profited from CTC-29, citing opportunities for networking with tourist boards and being given access to CTO travel specials that include commissionable air and land components. Given the looming realities of the passport requirements, the first question Clarke asks a potential client is, "Do you have a passport?" If the answer is no, she provides them with information on where to apply, get photos and expedite the process if necessary. "I've already had clients come in and say, 'Where can I go without a passport?'" She says the USVI and Puerto Rico are getting this business, although Alaska and Hawaii are also seeing benefits from the WHTI.

Expect tourism ministries to increase efforts to market the region to India, China, Africa and Latin America.

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