Passport Rules Hot Topic at Caribbean Marketplace

NEW YORK—As the ninth annual Caribbean Marketplace took place at the Marriott Marquis last week, the recent change in the new passport regulations was a big topic of conversation. Fernando Abreu

Travel Agent spoke to tourism officials during the marketplace, which attracted nearly 50 exhibitors, to see what they thought of the latest twist in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security announced June 8 that through September 30, U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or countries in the Caribbean region, who have applied for, but not yet received passports, can re-enter the United States by air by presenting government-issued photo identification and a Department of State official proof of application for a passport.

The federal government is making this accommodation for air travel due to longer-than-expected processing times for passport applications in the face of record-breaking demand.

"I think this change is positive and necessary since you had so many people who wanted to get their passports but couldn't because of the back log," says Basil Smith, director of tourism for Jamaica.

Although it is positive news, some officials think it could further obfuscate an already complicated situation.

"It's a bit confusing because of the way it has been done. One minute, it's one thing and the next, it's another," says Theo Heyliger, commissioner of tourism for St. Maarten/St. Martin.

The news did have the Hon. Glen Beache, minister of tourism, youth and sports for St. Vincent and the Grena-dines, looking on the bright side, even if his hopes weren't realistic.

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"Perhaps with all of these people getting passports, the U.S. government will see that most people are complying and will eventually go back to the way it used to be and lift the restrictions entirely," he says.

Fernando Abreu, deputy director of marketing for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, doesn't think the Carib-bean or other destinations affected by the passport restrictions will get that lucky.

"That will never happen," he says. "We just have to have a clear understanding one way or another of what people need to do to visit the Caribbean and go from there."