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Jason

the Caribbean fears U.S. travel rules

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KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- New U.S. travel rules aimed at closing America's borders to terrorists may cause trouble for an unintended target -- poor Caribbean countries seeking vital U.S. tourist dollars, regional officials say.

Under new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this month, Americans used to traveling to the islands with a driver's license or birth certificate will have to have passports -- something many do not have.

"It's been so easy to travel here that this will definitely impede visitor flows," said Paul Pennicook, head of the state tourism board of Jamaica. More than half of U.S. tourists go there without passports. "The Americans may just say 'what the hell' and go somewhere else," said Godfrey Dyer, head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association.

U.S. visitors represent the region's largest tourism market, accounting for 53 percent of last year's almost 22 million visitors, excluding cruise ship passengers, according to the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization. An estimated 60 million Americans have passports.

Under the new Homeland Security regulations, Americans returning from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America must show passports starting December 31. But those returning from Canada and Mexico only have to show passports starting December 31, 2006.

Caribbean officials stress they're not opposed to the border-tightening measures but say the extra year for Canada and Mexico gives their competitors an edge in attracting Americans without passports.

The Bahamas Hotel Association president said the earlier start date for the Caribbean will hurt visitor arrivals by discouraging "impulse travelers" who book last-minute trips and don't have passports.

"The implementation timetable presents the industry ... with a huge challenge," said Earle Bethel. "We're not against the measure in the least, but we'd like to be given the same time as Canada and Mexico."

To avoid losing ground some tourism leaders are calling for intense lobbying to pressure the United States for more time to raise awareness about the passport requirement, which comes as the region continues to struggle to recover from a slowdown in travel after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

'All-inclusive deals' -- with the passport

Others are taking a more creative approach.

The Jamaica-based resort chain SuperClubs announced it would cover the cost of getting passports -- about $100 each -- in all-inclusive holidays booked for next year. "We wanted to take away the hassle so people who want to come can," vice president Zein Nakash said.

Concerns the measure might hinder cross-border commerce prompted U.S. President George W. Bush to order a review of the plans, saying it must be more flexible. The plans could include the use of unnamed "additional documents" still being considered, but the passport would remain "the document of choice" for re-entry, according to a Homeland Security information sheet.

Some Caribbean countries like Barbados already require passports from Americans.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica doubted the plan would hurt travel to the Caribbean, famous for its white-sand beaches, lush vegetation and diverse culture. "When people love a place, they will go there," Glenn Guimond said.

Several U.S. tourists agreed. "Jamaica has its own unique charm and vacation value to attract her fair share of travelers," said Mark Bayer, 51, of Reading, Pennsylvania. He is planning to visit the island with his family in July. He and his wife have passports; their three adult children don't.

Amber Peleska, 23, traveled to Montego Bay resort town without a passport for her honeymoon but called the requirement a good idea.

"I think it'll make things a little safer with terrorism and all," said Peleska, a travel agent from Omaha, Nebraska, adding she was planning to get a passport.

Meanwhile, Caribbean tourist spots that won't be affected are hoping to reap a windfall in new U.S. visitors.

"You don't need a passport to come here," said Alain Tiphaine, head of the hotel and tourism association in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.

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Is it that difficult to get a passport?

I can see how it can be a slight hassle, but the rest of the world has to jump through quite a few more hoops to get to the U.S.

My question is what is really behind this sudden push to get everyone to get passports?

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Hello,

Sure, it is a hassle to get one. If it was as easy as renewing your license tag, then ok, but it isn't. Take a picture here....send this over there.....blah blah blah.

They should make it easier..........bring all your stuff down to a license tag renewal type of office and get it then and there. NOW THAT WOULD BE EASY.

Of course if i care to travel outside the U.S.,i will have to get one, but in the meantime......too many places in the U.S. i haven't seen. Hey, theres a thought......if we all would start traveling within the U.S. maybe that would help our economy and produce more jobs. Naw...it wouldn't be that simple.....

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In New York, we only have to take the photos with the application and fees to the Post Office and then its all done. A few weeks later the passport is mailed and it's good for 10 years.

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You can also do it all my mail after printing the forms online. Not a big deal at all. :cool:

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Here in Minnesota, I just went to the Drivers License Bureau and filled out a short form; they took my picture and that was it. My passport came in around two weeks.

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I've had my passport since 1999, and the one thing I didn't like about the process was that they took my ORIGINAL birth certificate and sent it away for 4 weeks! Granted, I sent it at the main post office here in my area, but there was no guarantee they wouldn't lose it. I was freaked about it.

I don't know why they couldn't have had a copy made right there at the post office and sent that.

Sue

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We decided to get ours after 9/11, in anticipation of tighter security. Just like Mebert we had to go to the Post Office. We had our photos taken at CVS. We had them in less than 2 weeks and they are good for 10 years.

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Easy here in Canada as well - we got ours soon after 911 because we travel across the border to Washington state so often. It makes it so much easier. Tightened security should only bother those who are in the wrong anyway - so I say it's good news. TTFN Jennifer

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