Perry wants US passport extension

Reported By Irwine Clare
HBN CTC 29

GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND, Bahamas, October 23, 2006 – Bahamas’ Prime Minister Perry G. Christie wants the U.S. to grant the Caribbean the same reprieve it has given to the cruise line industry, Canada and Mexico regarding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

His comments, made last night in opening remarks to delegates of the 29th Caribbean Tourism Conference, came ahead of a lobbying group’s visit to Washington today, for meetings with officials of the Department of Homeland Security.

“This implementation of WHTI should be delayed until June 2009, which would allow the new rules to be uniformly applied and the playing field leveled,” said PM Christie.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Secretary General, Vincent Vanderpool Wallace is set to lead hoteliers, airline executives and cruise line officials in a push today in Washington for an extension of the rule that calls for American travelers to have passports by January 8, 2007, if flying to the Caribbean.

Christie identified cooperation as the key in dealing with the passport issue, which Vanderpool Wallace has called a “category six storm” and which studies show will severely impact the economies of the regional destinations, many of which are largely dependent on tourism as a foreign exchange earner.

“Those of us who remain affected by the WHTI must band together and mount a united effort to persuade the US Department of Homeland Security to extend to us the same consideration given to the Cruise lines,” said the PM. “No matter how difficult the task may be, we are obliged to unite and make every effort to overcome this challenge. We must work together to request that the United States also delay implementation of WHTI as regards air travel.”

But Christie warned that while diplomatic initiatives are being taken at the highest level, tourism officials must make contingency plans. He recommended that these include encouraging more US citizens to obtain passports and calling on the US to waive the expediting fee to enable US citizens to obtain a passport in days rather than weeks.

Still the PM, the chairman of CARICOM Task Force On Tourism noted, “As a region, resilience is somehow our intrinsic nature. No matter what, we will rebound as we have clearly done in the aftermath of so many natural disasters and economic downturns in the past.”

On Thursday, Derwood Staeben, the US State Department’s senior advisor on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, told HBN the move by the U.S. is legal, not political. But stressed the U.S government recognizes the economic issues that may emanate from this major change and it is heir intention to mitigate any potential fallout as far as possible.

He also pledged his government’s commitment to “continue to work together with its Caribbean partners to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible.”

NEW CTO CHAIR NAMED

Meanwhile, St. Lucia’s tourism minister Phillip J. Pierre has been named the new chair of the CTO. Pierre was handed the baton by US Virgin Islands Commissioner of Tourism, Pamela Richards, who served until the handing over in the term-limited post. Richards, in her outgoing remarks, called on regional leaders to separate politics from tourism. (Hardbeatnews.com)