JG - Cruise industry joins US passport battle
published: Friday August 12, 2005
Cruise industry joins US passport battle
Gareth Manning, Gleaner Writer
Carnival Conquest docked at the Montegeo Bay Cruise Shipping Pier recently. - PHOTO BY HERBERT MCKENIS
CARIBBEAN CRUISE ship operators say new United States passport rules will damage the industry.
In December 2004, the U.S. state department mandated that all U.S. citizens, Mexicans, Canadians and Bermudans travelling to the Caribbean, South and Central America must produce a passport upon re-entry to the United States, effective January one next year. Adjustments were subsequently made for Mexico and Canada.
Steve Nielsen, vice-president of Caribbean Affairs at Princess Cruises says the new regulation will impact the cruise shipping industry severely. "It will certainly have an impact an our cruises to the Caribbean and a lesser impact on our cruises to Mexico and Canada."
The overall industry is valued in excess of US$13 billion and it contributes some US$100 million to the Jamaican economy yearly.
Vice-president at Destination Developments of the Royal Caribbean, Mike Ronan says though the U.S. Government has not yet published regulations supporting the law, the group is following the new law by encouraging Americans to get a passport.
"We're abiding by the law as we have to, but we're recognising that this will have an impact on us."
He says together with the Caribbean Tourist Organisation and the Caribbean Hotel Association, the industry has expressed its concerns to the U.S. Government.
The new regulations are to take place under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. According to the U.S. State Department website the initiative is a joint effort aimed at further strengthening border security and facilitating entry into the United States by legitimate travellers. The initiative is mandated under the U.S Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
Director of Tourism in Jamaica Paul Pennicooke says if the U.S. goes ahead with its plans, there will be serious consequences for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
"So many of us [in the Caribbean] are dependent on American visitors... even if this is to be done the least you can do is level the playing field," he says.
He says the new law will impact negatively on stop over arrivals for the upcoming winter tourist season, if it takes effect on January one.
LAST MINUTE PREPARATIONS
"Many visitors from the U.S. make last minute preparations to come to Jamaica because they do not need a passport," he says.
He fears the effect of the later date set for Mexico may cause visitors to go there instead of coming to Jamaica.
William Tatham agrees that preferential treatment to Mexico will have a grave impact on cruise ships coming to the Caribbean. He says hotels and cruise shipping industries across the Caribbean are 'in a sense' partnering to combat the new law.
He adds that Florida Cruise Shipping Association is active in the fight against the law as cruise shipping contributes heavily to the Florida economy.
According to the Economic Social Survey of Jamaica published last year, nearly one and a half million people came to the island by cruise ships. Over 70 per cent of of them were Americans.
The Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Jamaica Tourist Board have been appealing to the U.S. Government to push back the effective date of the new law. Pennicooke says several letters have been written to the U.S. outlining the negative impact the new regulation will have on Caribbean tourism.
Last week Minister of Tourism, Aloun Assamba censured the U.S. Government's latest anti- terrorism initiative calling the new law a restraint of trade.
"This is a restraint of trade because of our competitors: Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Mexico, Hawaii don't require this and in fact, Mexico and Canada have been given two additional years when passports are not required, " she said.
Jamaica is supported by other tourist associations across the Caribbean and some key players in congress and the senate.
Pennicooke notes that senior Congressman, Charles Randle, head of the Congressional Black Caucus in the U.S. has been appealing to President Bush to roll back the legislation in light of the negative repercussions for the Caribbean. The Black Caucus is a committee of black congressmen and women who are aimed at achieving equity for people of African descent.
"A number of other senators are also appealing to president Bush," Pennicooke says.